Can You Check Out a Pipe, Too? Boulder’s Main Library Closes Due to Meth

AP Photo/Matt York, File

When I was a kid, we would periodically be herded onto a bus or marched in a straight little line to the main branch of our county library. I’ve always been a book person, and frankly, any excuse to get out of the classroom for a few hours was appreciated.


The main branch was located downtown and directly across the street from a series of adult bookstores. It was also a magnet for the local homeless population, or as they were known in the ’70s, bums. And of course, the number of homeless people and hardcore drug users was much lower than it is today. These people usually came in during the winter to get out of the cold or would lounge around the library park in the summer. And to be honest, everyone pretty much left everyone else alone. And we never ran the risk of getting a contact high.

But in the 21st century, not only are people free to do whatever they want, but they also demand society’s blessing for and accommodation of it. Which could explain why the Main Boulder City Library in Colorado is closed for, shall we say, maintenance. City officials ordered the building closed when “unacceptable” levels of methamphetamine were detected in the air ducts of six of the library’s restrooms. The decision to close the building was made on December 20.

A press release from the city said that the library was closed out of an abundance of caution and will also include swab testing on surfaces inside and outside the bathroom:

The city made this unprecedented decision today after receiving results of tests it ordered of air ducts in six of the restrooms in the Main Library at 1001 Arapahoe Avenue. The tests showed that residue inside the ducts had higher than acceptable levels of methamphetamine. The ducts blow air and contaminants outside the building, but it is not yet clear what, if any, level of contaminants is on surfaces.

The testing stems from a recent spike in reports of individuals smoking in public restrooms over the past four weeks. On two occasions, city employees were evaluated and cleared of ongoing health concerns after experiencing symptoms consistent with a potential exposure to meth residue or fumes.


TV Station KRDO reported that the testing was ordered following an increase in reports of people smoking in public restrooms. Boulder city officials later stated that contamination was confined to the air ducts of the six bathrooms in question. According to KDVR, the library will begin opening in phases on January 4.

But if you live in the Boulder area, would you want to go back? Let’s recap: a spike in incidents in the bathrooms led to the testing. A spike would indicate that a certain amount of smoking is at least tolerated. But at some point, did someone say “Boy, there seem to be a lot more tweakers in here than usual”?

And maybe I’m nit-picking here, but “higher than acceptable levels of meth?” What is the acceptable level? Ideally, that level would be none. And people who smoke meth are not known for their genteel behavior, which puts patrons at risk, including children. When I was a kid, we tried to avoid the library bathrooms because they were usually a mess, not because we thought our lives could be in danger.

But of course, we live in a fallen world. So apparently, we must concede that there is an acceptable level of meth, and, depending on where you live, fecal matter, needles, or violence. Let’s face it, once we become adapted to living with a crisis, it isn’t a crisis anymore. And maybe that is the true Overton window. Problems are ignored or treated as “flukes” until a degraded way of life becomes business as usual. What was once unacceptable becomes tolerable and then finally acceptable.


Society doesn’t always reset by draconian laws, so said reset may not consist of lines of soldiers marching down your street. Resets can occur by moving the line an inch or two every day, without your consent or possibly with it. It is a war of attrition that is never declared and is won by allowing people to assert that values and behavior are dictated by how they feel that day. And so we find ourselves in a place in which accepting the little things makes it easier for the powers that be to enforce the big things that we once might never have stood for.

You see, it isn’t that Boulder or the library was permitting or encouraging the use of meth. It wasn’t. It is just that society has reached a point where that kind of behavior in a public library is no longer a cause for alarm. Library Director David Farnan said, “This is truly a sad situation and represents the impact of a widespread epidemic in our country.” Yes, it is a sad situation. It’s also outrageous and dangerous and should never have been an issue in the first place. But at what point do people stop looking at their shoes and finally say, “no more?”

Probably never. The danger of being accused of having values and standards far outweighs the risks posed by a society without either.




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