Library officials apologize for detention of protester

Charles Campbell was protesting the potential sale of the library's downtown north building Friday when he was detained by security staff.

The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County's downtown campus - Hailey Bollinger
Hailey Bollinger
The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County's downtown campus

Officials with the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County today apologized for detaining and banning a patron who was protesting a plan to decommission the north building of the library’s downtown campus.

Critics of that plan, which could result in the sale of the north building of its downtown campus, say library brass are deflecting from bigger issues.

Both the Llbrary and its critics roughly agree on what happened during the Friday incident. Charles Campbell, a member of a coalition called Our Library, Our Decision, was at the library handing out leaflets advocating against the potential sale of the north building. He also had a sign that read “3CDC hands off our library.”

Campbell was asked to stop handing out the leaflets, which library officials say is against policy. Both sides agree he ceased distributing the information. Security personnel also asked him to turn his sign around, which he refused to do. After some back and forth during which Campbell asked for the specific library policies his sign violated, he was detained and handcuffed by two library security personnel. Cincinnati Police cited him for criminal trespassing and Campbell was told he was banned from all library facilities for six months. His court date on the trespassing charge is slated for Oct. 6.

Today, Library Director Kim Fender offered an apology and walked back those punishments.

“We would like to offer Mr. Campbell a sincere apology,” Fender said during a news conference today. “We believe in the importance of the First Amendment. It’s not the intention of the library to suppress anyone’s freedom of speech or bar them from visiting one of our locations.”

As part of a larger facilities plan, the library has contracted with the Cincinnati City Center Development Company to explore possible sale of the north building to private developers. One of the library’s seven trustees, William Moran, also works for 3CDC, and his son, Michael Moran, is a vice president at CBRE in Cincinnati, the real estate company that appraised the library’s building at $8.5 million. That’s well under the nearly $40 million the library paid to acquire land and construct the building 20 years ago. Trustees and other library officials say the decision to sell isn't final, and that they're seeking other appraisals.

Critics of the plan point out the decisions made by the library up to this point have not included opportunity for public input.

Following the news conference, Our Library, Our Decision members representing local chapters of Socialist Alternative, Democratic Socialists of America and other groups criticized library leadership.

Campbell said he’s against suspending the security guard who detained him.

“You’re just evading the issue,” he said to library officials at the event. “I was expressing my political views. I’m allowed to do that. Because they’re uncomfortable, you tried to stop me. This is not a problem of what one employee did. The employees of this library are consistently shut out of the decision-making process. The administration has created a culture that silences the views of employees and the public and creates a space where they’re not the decision-makers. Instead, 3CDC and Fortune 500 companies are. I think that’s wrong.”

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