Graffiti found in public library

Zoe Engels, Executive News Editor

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District 225 students study in the Northbrook Public Library. The library has recently been subjected to multiple acts of vandalism, including the word “Trump” and depictions of swastikas. Photo by Sydney Stumme-Berg

Children beamed as they read stories to themselves, teenagers skimmed their textbooks and adults of all ages browsed the aisles for new novels. Meanwhile, the area around the first floor men’s restroom was filled with the hustle and bustle of people entering and exiting the building. For Brodie Austin, assistant director of the Northbrook Public Library, these day-to-day scenes were marred by the graffiti that he had found scrawled on the bathroom wall.

Written vertically next to the paper towel dispenser, Austin could clearly see the name, “Trump.” Beneath it, a swastika was drawn with a black pen. He had encountered what would become the first of five incidents of graffiti within the Northbrook Public Library.

“Finding the graffiti was a wake-up call that even a place like Northbrook isn’t immune to the changes that we’ve seen in the country, particularly when it comes to rhetoric around hate and intolerance,” said Austin. “This incident, whatever the motivation, showed me that we have to step up and protect [open spaces like the library].”

This first incident of vandalism occurred on Nov. 28, 2016, with the fifth and most recent incident occurring on Jan. 18, 2017. All of these incidents have occurred in the first and third floor men’s restrooms at the library. In each of the reported cases, the name “Trump” was written, although it was once spelled incorrectly. Below or to the right of the name itself, a swastika was also drawn.

Although the Northbrook Public Library is working in conjunction with the police, Kate Hall, executive director of the Northbrook Public Library, said the perpetrator or perpetrators have not yet been discovered. It is unclear whether or not the incidents of vandalism were committed by the same person.

Sophomore Melanie Ji, who studies at the library for about twenty to twenty-five hours per week, said she does not feel “threatened” or imperiled when she works on her homework while at the library, but she plans to be more “wary” of her environment.

Although junior Sara Chen, who spends many of her weekday evenings and weekends at the library, said she was upset by the graffiti, she still sees the library as a place of comfort where patrons from many different backgrounds can feel welcome. She does not think that these incidents will alter the level of safety and comfort that she experiences while there.

According to Hall, the library has received only support from members both within and outside of the community.

“We have not had anyone contact us saying, ‘I no longer feel comfortable coming into the library because this has happened,’” Hall said.

Bob Israel, trustee, Village of Northbrook, said he does not believe these particular incidents should be perceived as greatly concerning.

“Just looking at what happened, I don’t think it was anything serious, but it is a serious reminder that we should treat each other with respect,” said Israel. “This was not a case … [where] there was a physical threat perceived to go along with [the graffiti]. … It seems to be … a cowardly expression of frustration, if you will, without any real effort to back it up with action.”

In response to the graffiti, Austin said the library has since added additional security cameras outside the restrooms, and the staff conduct routine bathroom checks to find any new graffiti. The library has also incorporated a clause into its Patron Code of Conduct to discourage and prevent hate speech that “targets individuals based on their identity or other traits.”

The library and village are also taking steps to encourage effective and respectful dialogue when conveying ideas.

“You want to say whatever you want [and] express yourself, [that is] fine,” said library board president Carlos Früm. “But, do so in an appropriate manner without damaging the property of all of us.”

Sandy Frum, president, Village of Northbrook, said the incidents at the library are “symptomatic of a larger issue” whereby civil interaction — the ability to communicate courteously and conscientiously — is lacking. She hopes the library and village can address these problems by promoting inclusivity and greater regard for others.

“The issue, in my mind, isn’t simply the graffiti that we saw and what it said,” said Sandy Frum. “It’s the broader issue of, ‘How do we show respect for one another?’”

Chen, who is a member of the library’s Teen Advisory Board, said the board worked to promote tolerance after the incidents of graffiti by writing positive quotes on the sidewalk surrounding the building. She herself wrote, “The time is always right to do what is right,” quoting Martin Luther King, Jr., as an uplifting reminder for the library’s patrons as they entered the building.

To address the incidents, Hall said the library also plans to hold a “celebration of cultures” in April and intends to show different films from various cultures such as Russian, Iranian and Chinese.

“Hopefully [we can] help spark conversation and introduce people to the idea that, … while we may have differences, we are all here together, and the library is able to provide programs and services for everybody,” Hall said.

For Carlos Früm, it is most important to note that the behavior of the perpetrator or perpetrators does not reflect the thoughts and actions of Northbrook as a whole.

“Civil discourse unifies us, [but] hate polarizes us,” said Carlos Früm. “And, we cannot get polarized in a small town like [Northbrook].”

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Graffiti found in public library