OMAK — North Central Washington Library officials say they are considering closing the Omak Library after several weeks of “mounting hostility” directed at staffers because of masking requirements.
Some library visitors have pushed back against wearing a mask indoors, said Tim Dillman, NCW Libraries interim director of branch operations. Their reactions have become increasingly worse, from storming out and cursing to spitting at employees.
The first priority is staff safety, but “if this continues to be an issue we can’t get a handle on, then we would look at closing the branch to in-person services,” he said.
State pandemic rules require the library to enforce the wearing of masks. NCW Library locations across the region reopened their indoor spaces last spring after months of curbside operation and a period of closure.
Hostilities from some Omak library patrons began early in October, Dillman said.
One of the most recent occurrences involved a new visitor to the library who became very frustrated when asked to wear a mask, he said. The visitor spat on a librarian, left the building, then came back inside and spat on the librarian again.
Other reports of aggression include patrons throwing down masks and pamphlets, he said. Hostile incidents occur at least every other day, he said.
The employees at the library are concerned about what their day at work may bring, he said.
Staffers did not create this masking policy, but they are the ones who have to enforce it, he said. “They’re kind of caught between a rock and hard place,” Dillman said.
The library is looking at switching back to a curbside model if issues continue, something Dillman calls “a really unfortunate step that we would have to take.”
Dillman said he hopes people can understand there is a masking requirement and, if they do not want a mask, can do curbside pickups or mail orders.