Recently, I attended a seminar sponsored by the Central Piedmont Community College Libraries and the Charlotte Area Education Consortium about security issues and librarians. The presenter/consultant, Warren Graham, provided some very practical training from his almost 20 years as the head of the security with the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County (PLCMC). For those law libraries that allow public access as does the Charlotte School of Law, it was very helpful session.
We learned what to do about the 1 to 2 percent of problem patrons that cause a disturbance in the library. An outline of some of his program follows:
First, the library has to establish some general policy issues.
- When patrons disrupt the library, they lose their privilege and are denied access. People get themselves ejected from the library.
- Patrons and staff should always feel safe in the workplace. Librarians are in charge of the environment. Administration has to back them up.
- Librarians have taken too much abuse in the guise of customer service. Librarians are professionals and need to be treated as such.
Graham points out that the libraries that implement his program have not been sued and succeed because of they follow a simple security plan; everyone is trained properly; the librarians are more than fair in following the rules; and everyone is treated the same.
A successful security program needs to have the following elements:
- Rules for library use. These need to be out and visible to the public. The rules need to be stated as simply and straightforward as possible and not everything has to be written down. One rule that has to be included is “any behavior that is disruptive to library use will not be tolerated.” There also have to be set guidelines for enforcement such as two warnings and the next time the patron is not allowed access for six months. For academic libraries, enforcement needs to be tied to the student code of conduct.
- Enforcement by behavior not by appearance. Everyone needs to be treated the same. Focus on the disruptive behavior not whether someone is homeless.
- Be consistent in rule enforcement. “They let me do this at other campuses.” “They let me do this yesterday!” If librarians consistently deal with the little things, the bigger problems do not materialize. Inconsistency makes it harder on coworkers and the patron always expects preferential treatment.
- Librarians need to take responsibility for their own safety and not rely on security. Staff should have a quiet awareness of the surroundings. Awareness can be cultivated. Graham recommends a 30/30/30 training where for 30 days, every 30 minutes, librarians stop and observe the environment for 30 seconds to develop an intuitive awareness. When patrons enter the library, they should be greeted so that they know you are aware of their presence. When there is less staff, more awareness is needed.
- Document security concerns to be able to justify spending on security and to resolve issues in the following three ways. At the end of the month, total up incidents in a spreadsheet.
- Incident reports. What they did, what you did, and why you did what you did. They should be simple and user friendly. They should be completed that day.
- Security log on clipboard at circulation desk. Librarian needs to make a tally mark every time he or she has to correct behavior.
- Potential problem log. Record the name, description of patron, date and staff member for patrons with whom you feel there might be an issue. It helps in establishing a pattern. Make sure everyone knows about the person.
- Libraries need two cameras so that images can be pulled up for police. One needs to be at the entrance of the library. It should be visible to deter trouble.
- There needs to be a periodic review of the security plan to make sure the librarians are in control.
- Training in security is necessary. New employee training should incorporate security instruction and that training needs to be repeated every couple of years.
- Whether the security company is in-house or contracted, their personnel need to look professional, be physically fit, and trained to report problems.
These are just some of the key points for librarians who have security roles in their libraries. For more information, Warren Graham has a very practical book on the subject.