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Recently, I conducted a survey of public library directors and deputy directors asking what topics most interested them for an online discussion forum. While a majority did not respond, of those who did, 33% selected, “Rise in safety concerns in the library – What strategies are you using? What resources do you need?” Is this topic of interest to you and your library staff?
Quite serendipitously, the Public Library Association hosted Spotlight on Safety: Addressing Threats in Public Libraries. This recorded Webinar on November 30 was attended by thousands of library leaders and staff throughout the country. The website offers links to many resources of value to help to prepare and navigate safety concerns in public libraries.
Key takeaways from each presenter:
- Maria McCauley, current PLA President and Director of Libraries for the City of Cambridge (MA), discussed how challenges to library materials, programs, and displays can also include threats to safety of staff and/or library users. She pointed to ALA resources that include the LeRoy C. Merritt Humanitarian Fund for financial assistance “devoted to the support, maintenance, medical care, and welfare of librarians.”
- Justin Lock, Senior Counsel to the Director for the US Dept. of Justice, Community Relations Service (DOJ CRS) pointed out that this agency “serves as ‘America’s Peacemaker’ for communities in conflict.” This DOJ agency mediates disputes and offers resources, training, and support for community-based capacity building to prevent and resolve future conflicts. The Rocky Mountain Regional Office, based in Denver, services Colorado as well as Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Utah.
- Manya Shore, Director of Libraries at Forth Worth, Texas described a bomb threat incident that occurred on September 19, 2022 at her library (bomb threats also occurred that day at libraries in Denver, Salt Lake, Nashville, and Hawaii). While her libraries were evacuated quickly, local police found no sign of bombs. She stated the importance of evacuation procedures and training> She also suggested working closely with local law enforcement and other agencies and ensuring that library administration are proactive. She also emphasizes care with staff, including transparency and prompt updates to staff.
- Leah Esguerra, Supervisor of San Francisco Public Library’s Social Services Program, acknowledged that library staff are experiencing racism, homophobia, post-traumatic stress, compassion fatigue, and vicarious trauma. She suggested self-care, mindfulness, and conversations with each other as methods to combat these challenges. She also recommended training on boundary setting in the public space as well as ways for library staff to “stay together, work together” to help manage the public library setting, including enforcement of strong rules of behavior.
- Dustin Koopman, director of security at Mid-Continent Public Library (Independence, MO), provides training and support to library staff. In his training, he asks, “What does safety and security mean to you?” “In the library, what does safety and security mean to you, including physical, emotional, mental, social, and intellectual?” and “What is one of the most powerful tools you can use to ensure safety and security?” He answers that last question by encouraging people to speak up, use their voice and other communication to raise awareness. He recommended Verbal Judo: The Gentle Art of Persuasion for strategies of de-escalation and other techniques. His additional suggestions included:
- Create policies and procedures that strengthen library safety and security
- Empower staff to create safety and security in the workplace
- Debrief incident reports regularly; keep track of incidents and review for improvements to service and security
- Talk to staff members individually after an incident to make sure they are okay and determine if they need support
- Review core values and core values in the library to find alignment with safety and security
While there are a variety of perspectives in this webinar, it an ongoing conversation and I welcome your additional suggestions and ideas. Feel free to reach out to morris_s at cde.state.co.us.