As new and returning students walk into any of the libraries on the University of New Mexico’s main campus this fall, they will be greeted by newly constructed turnstiles. Construction on the turnstiles began May 11 and is anticipated to be completed during the summer months, according to Lea Briggs, department administrator for the College of University Libraries and Learning Sciences.
The University is implementing these turnstiles in an effort to increase safety at the libraries on campus. UNM’s libraries are currently accessible to the public, with only select online resources being reserved for the UNM community, according to the University Libraries help page. UNM Libraries will continue to allow community members not affiliated with UNM to use the libraries, but they must show a photo ID to enter, according to Jason Shoup, senior operations manager at Zimmerman Library.
“The overwhelming concern is that the library must support an environment that feels welcoming and safe to our UNM community as well as other library visitors. The University Libraries is committed to providing welcoming facilities that support intellectual inquiry and student success and that function as part of a broader campus landscape where UNM consistently demonstrates its dedication to public safety,” Briggs wrote to the Daily Lobo.
The addition of the turnstiles has raised questions regarding the accessibility of campus libraries; over 65% of public libraries reported that they were the only place within their community with free access to computers and Wi-Fi, according to the Huffington Post.
The turnstiles echo similar moves across other parts of the country to make public libraries less accessible to unhoused individuals. A library located in the Castro neighborhood of San Francisco proposed adding railings to walls and “undulating rock formations,” moves that mirror efforts in other cities, according to an article from the Guardian.
One member of the unhoused community in Albuquerque, Dawn Doring, said that she already struggles with daily harassment and being forced to move when she isn't harming anyone.
“(Public officials) will absolutely harass me if they see me ... I'm not allowed to sit there … I don't know. I guess I look like a criminal misfit. I do not know why,” Doring said.
Obtaining a photo ID in the state of New Mexico requires one proof of identity and two proofs of residency, according to the New Mexico Motor Vehicle Division. Most of the eligible proofs of residency are tied back to housing. Doring said that she did not currently have an ID card and was struggling to get one.
With or without an ID, UNM facilities have been historically hostile towards unhoused populations, according to an unhoused community member who went by Kit. She said that, generally speaking, unhoused people are shooed away from most campus facilities, leading most to avoid UNM buildings altogether.
“I feel like we're treated like we're not part of society, not a part of the community. We're treated poorly; no one should be treated like that,” Kit said. “It feels awful, and I think that leads to us not wanting to go in (UNM libraries) and ask to use facilities.”
The primary purpose of the turnstiles is to track who is entering the library. The library is continuing to develop the process of documentation for non-UNM guests, according to Shoup. He said they will still be relying on the UNM police department in case of any future incidents that occur.
Incidents at UNM libraries, including policy infractions, theft and vandalism, drug and alcohol use, indecent exposure and disruption or harassment, dropped significantly between 2018 and 2019 down from 75 incidents to 37, according to Briggs. The collected data did not include whether or not the individual causing the issues was a part of the UNM community. More recent data was unavailable due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Madeline Pukite is the managing editor at the Daily Lobo. They can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @maddogpukite