Increase in crime opens new chapter at downtown library

October 12, 1997

I noticed that the Washington County Not So Free Anymore Library became Hagerstown's first gated community recently, shutting customers out of one of its two parking lots, locking the rear entrance and even posting an employee at the gate to chase people away.

This is just what downtown needs, I thought.

Pretty soon other businesses are going to think this is a good idea and follow suit. The Grille at Park Circle restaurant, for example, might put up a big fence around its parking lot with a sign similar to the library's which says "Do not enter. Employee's entrance only." Then one of the waiters will stand at the gate and tell customers to get lost unless they can find somewhere else to park and walk, and they can't use the door, they have to climb in the bathroom window.

Hagerstown could be the first city to reverse the old cliche: "We need to run business more like a government."


Fortunately this won't happen in Hagerstown (Motto: "A City That Loves to Feed") because lunch has always outstripped books in terms of citizen interest.

But sadly I learned that it isn't the customers the library is trying to keep away, but the vandals. Apparently library officials have had some trouble with shady characters hanging out in the parking lot, damaging things and hassling customers.

With all the things there are to vandalize these days, you wonder why people have to pick the library, which is providing useful services and where people are trying to better themselves. What ever happened to boxcars?

I wouldn't have thought uneducated, shady characters would even know where the library was. It would be like me hanging out in the parking lot of a church.

But still you have to wistfully think: So close and yet so far. If you could just inch these yo-yos a few more feet from the parking lot into the reading rooms, maybe we could change a few for the better. They could start their education with some deep, quality literature, like the left hand side of Page 3 in The Herald-Mail, for example.

Then they could discover it's more satisfying to read Twain than it is their own graffiti, more profitable to study computers than to snatch purses.

We could call it our vandal renewal project.

Incidentally, I think this could work for the city itself. I noticed successful developer Dick McCleary has purchased a downtown property for renovation. This is a good sign; I can't imagine he'd bother with it if he didn't believe that downtown had a prayer.

Maybe other developers can get involved, too. It would sort of be like the state's "Adopt a Highway" anti-litter campaign. Every few buildings there'd be a little sign: "This next half-block sponsored by Callas Contractors Inc."

What they'd actually do with these buildings once they'd fixed them up, I'm not sure. Perhaps we could feed off Prime Retail once it opens by turning downtown into an outlet center.

So we have some bums that like to hang out downtown? Who cares so long as we have The Gap. Come for the bargains, stay for the, um, local urban flavor. (Hurry hurry, get your tickets to see the feared Library Vandals, a group so terrifying, so fiendish, so cruel, it scared the board into CLOSING ITS PARKING LOT!)

Then we could hire some people to actually come live downtown and we'd be rolling.

But rather than display the criminal element for the entertainment of outlet shoppers, I still think reform is the better course.

Washington County had the Bookmobile, why couldn't it have the first Vandalmobile? We lock them in the Vandalmobile and make them read, preferably something from Dostoevsky. Then, after a hard day of reading - oh what the heck - we let them go outside and spray paint the bus.

Terry Talbert is a Herald-Mail staff writer.

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