Acting Deputy-Ombudsman Jussi Pajuoja is of the view that a library must give a hearing to a client and if necessary draw attention to disruptive behaviour before banning the client from using the library.
Dr. Pajuoja was adopting a position on a complaint concerning the action of a branch of the Helsinki City Library in banning one of its clients from using its services.
The library prohibited all transactions by the client at one branch for six months and the use of computers at all branches for a week. The reason stated for the ban was the client's constant disruptive and aggressive behaviour towards personnel and other library users.
The Deputy-Ombudsman noted that the library had not actually given the client a hearing before imposing the ban nor complained to the client about disruptive behaviour, although the reason stated for the ban was disruptive behaviour that had continued for a long period.
The library's action can be criticised, because being given a hearing is one of the legal safeguards that the Constitution guarantees. Its importance is accentuated when what is involved is a measure, such as the right to use a library that is maintained out of public funds, with far-reaching consequences from the client's perspective.
Complaining about the client's behaviour or issuing a caution, i.e. resorting to a milder means before prohibiting the client from using the library, would have been in accordance with good administration. That is especially the case when consequences that are unfavourable from the client's point of view are being considered. It is appropriate to give the client a chance to correct his or her behaviour.
Earlier decision led to revision of rules
This was not the first occasion on which a prohibition on using a library was investigated by the Ombudsman. In March 2007 Deputy-Ombudsman Jukka Lindstedt drew attention to the fact that the rules for using municipally owned libraries in Espoo, Helsinki, Kauniainen and Vantaa did not specify, for example, the length of the period for which a person could be banned from using a library or how the right to use it could be regained. In his view, this was not adequate from the perspective of the client's legal security.
The decision gave the impetus for a revision of library use rules to take account of the problems that the Deputy-Ombudsman had highlighted. A joint set of rules for using the libraries in the four municipalities of the Helsinki Metropolitan Area were completed in April of this year and rules for using the computers in the libraries were completed in June.
The new rules contain more precise guidelines than earlier regarding loss of the right to use a library. Under them, a library may prohibit a client from using its facilities if the client, despite being forbidden to do so, behaves disruptively towards the staff or another client. The duration of the ban can be from one day to six months. It is also stated in the rules that before a ban on using a library is imposed, the parties involved shall be given an opportunity to put their point of view.
Prohibitions on use rare
It was observed when the earlier complaint was being investigated that adults are very rarely banned from using a library. Bans have usually been announced orally, have been for brief periods and have usually applied to children or adolescents who have behaved disruptively and failed to heed rebukes.
Thus established practices for handling situations that lead to prohibitions on use have not necessarily come into being in the library sector. For this reason and because the new use rules take the client's legal security better into account, in addition to facilitating the emergence of uniform practices for dealing with these situations, the Deputy-Ombudsman deems it sufficient to inform the branch library of his opinion. Because the matter is of more general interest, he also sent a copy of his decision to the Ministry of Education for its information.
Deputy-Ombudsman Jukka Lindstedt had already earlier informed the Ministry of his view that Section 10 of the Library Act should be explicated. This Section provides for the issue of rules for using libraries, but does not specify what obligations can be imposed on clients under the rules.
Additional information will be provided by Legal Adviser Mikko Sarja, tel. +358(0)9 432 3364.