WENATCHEE – The Omak Public Library might have to close its doors to in-person service because some visitors refuse to wear masks and have become abusive.
NCW Libraries, which operates 30 libraries throughout Chelan, Douglas, Grant, Okanogan and Ferry counties, said it may close the Omak branch’s doors if people don’t comply.
The library system follows the state Department of Health COVID-19 mask mandate and asks that everyone who enters a library facility wear a mask. Disposable masks are available for anyone who needs one, and the staff can offer services outside the library for people who prefer not to wear a mask.
“Despite our efforts to accommodate everyone, our Omak staff has experienced increasingly disrespectful treatment and mounting hostility,” said library officials. “More and more visitors are refusing to abide by our masking requirement, improperly wearing masks, and treating staff with disrespect when they enforce our system-wide policy.
“Customers have cursed at staff, thrown materials and gone as far as spitting on a staff member when asked to wear a disposable mask while in the branch.”
Omak Police Chief Dan Christensen said his office has responded to five calls to the library this year, with most being calls from the library about people in the park next door or in the parking lot. The spitting incident – which would be considered an assault – was not reported.
Enforcing mask mandates is not a police role or priority, said Christensen.
NCW Libraries officials say they are committed to the safety of staff “and we refuse to put them at risk of continued verbal and physical abuse.”
If the behaviors persist, the Omak branch will be shut down and would return to curbside services only, said library officials.
“Throughout the pandemic, our staff at the Omak Library has been tirelessly committed to connecting the public with essential resources, while prioritizing public health,” said the library district. “When our locations were required to shut down, we continued providing books and DVDs through our mail order library and expanded our free Wi-Fi. As soon as our staff were able to return to work we started offering curbside services.”
Library branches are now fully open.
“In order to keep our libraries open and safe for everyone, including our staff, we need every visitor to wear a mask,” said library officials. “If you are unable to wear a mask, please call the library so we can provide alternative services outside the building.”