I started to write a much more lighthearted blog post, but what’s in my mind right now are the numerous questions I’m receiving concerning safety and security. Today’s libraries are more than just books and movies, and places where programs and classes abound for all ages. They are all of those wonderful things, but also community centers in the true sense of that title. Libraries have often been referred to as the “great equalizers” in our society, one of the few places welcoming all people regardless of their unique situations.
This important practice of welcoming all people comes with some challenges. Libraries tend to reflect the entirety of the communities in which they are located. As such, depending on location, libraries can also function as after-school youth centers, employment centers, co-working spaces, computer training centers, social work hubs, and daytime shelters. Public libraries have embraced all of these functions, but they do not always co-exist gracefully with those expecting more traditional library usages and atmospheres. So, how do libraries make this all work?
Libraries like ours set boundaries by establishing standards of behavior which apply equally to all visitors. While it looks like we have a lot of rules, most rules come down to making sure that all people can use the library comfortably and that the library remains a safe and welcoming space. For example, you can talk or use your phone (using a relatively quiet voice) but you can’t use offensive language. You can sit comfortably in the library doing nothing if you so choose, but you can’t sleep here or eat meals here. In short, in order to stay, you must treat staff and your fellow customers with civility while using our physical spaces with respect and care.
As societal issues have grown, it is common for libraries to employ security staff and use security cameras to ensure that rules are followed and that those who cannot follow rules are asked to comply or leave the building for specified periods of time. This does not mean that we spy on people—libraries respect your privacy more than almost any other institution. We don’t judge what you choose to check out and we don’t share anyone’s library information without a court order. We train our staff to de-escalate difficult situations, and we learn procedures to follow if a situation becomes untenable.
Do not be alarmed that people from all walks of life are here in our building. Equal access to information and resources should be a norm to be celebrated. If you see something that causes you concern, your best option is to share that concern with staff at any service desk, or with library administration. We are here for you—all of you—six days per week. If you haven’t been here yet, I invite you to visit and be proud of the beautiful library we have in this community. I truly believe that there is something here for everyone.