In February, the Millennium Library introduced airport-style metal detectors and bag searches to its lobby, a practice management said was meant to deter violence or abrasive behaviour.
Six months later, a report by management touted the security measures as a success: total incident reports had decreased by 24.7 per cent over the half-year period between January and June compared to 2018.
But Joe Curnow, an academic who studies civic numeracy, says library management obscured the numbers to present a stronger case for the security measures to remain in place, despite public outcry.
"They make so many errors in putting forward data that if they were in a research methods class with me, I would fail them," tweeted Curnow, a member of the Millennium For All advocacy group and an assistant professor at the University of Manitoba in the department of education.
For one thing, Curnow says, the number of visits to the library decreased substantially since the measures were introduced compared to previous years. In 2018, 854,942 people visited the library between January and June. This year, only 582,159 did. The library report notes a two-week gap in visitation data and attributes a quarter of the attendance drop to the negative public response to the security measures.
"When you have (270,000) fewer people visiting, of course you can expect fewer incidents," Curnow said. "A 32 per cent drop (in attendance) is catastrophic."
"The reported data doesn’t indicate that the security barrier is reducing incidents at a higher rate than it is reducing visits," said Andrew Kohan, another Millennium For All member.
The library report also features a bar graph showing total incidents for each month between November 2018 and June 2019. In February, when the security measures were introduced, there were 46 incidents; in March, 43; and in April, May and June, a combined 38. And a separate January-June graph without a month-by-month breakdown shows incident reports decreased from 259 in 2018 to 195 in 2019.
Curnow calls all these numbers misleading, too. She says the library’s usage is likely much different in the winter months, when people in the downtown tend to convene there for warmth or security. During this time period, she says, homeless people, people living in poverty and anybody else in the downtown tend to rely on the library as one of the city’s last "free public spaces." She says both charts, as well as the overall annual attendance data, should include month-by-month breakdowns to account for that usage change. "We need to see the raw data," Curnow said.
In the report, library management called for an increase in funding to provide a series of upgrades in the 2020-2023 provincial budget, including some mental-health and crisis-worker services. The boosted security measures have been supported by both the Winnipeg Police Service and CUPE 500, which represents library staff.
"The root causes driving the increase in incidents at Millennium Library and in the downtown community are beyond the mandate or capacity of the Public Service alone to solve," library services manager Ed Cuddy told the Free Press last week. "The direction for such an initiative must come from the province of Manitoba — the agency responsible for addressing any gap in social services.
"While library services may be part of the solution, we are not trained, funded or mandated to ‘solve’ the overall impact of these issues on the public space at the library," he added.
Cuddy, who authored the report, was not made available for an interview for this article, but a city spokesperson said the library report will be considered at this morning’s standing-policy committee on protection, community services and parks.
The committee will also have to consider the report Millennium For All has prepared in response: a document which describes in detail problems like the ones Curnow pointed out.
An executive summary of the report concludes: "For a report by librarians, we have to ask: where are the citations? Where is the information? Where is your commitment to serving the public?"
Millennium For All will present its report, which includes a series of recommendations — including the removal of the barriers and an increase in staffing — to the committee at what the group is calling a "shush-in," wherein community members will "shush" library representatives whenever they feel they’re misusing data or using problematic language. "The intent is to bring a lot of people out to hold them accountable for their work," Curnow said.
The standing-policy committee meets at 9:30 a.m. at city hall.
Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.