Public Library Safety & Security Toolkit



Outline the Problem

Step One: Outline the Problem

Through a targeted media campaign, start by building a narrative in clear, easy-to-understand language illustrating the safety and security problems Canada’s urban libraries face. Include data on the numbers and types of incidents occurring within libraries in Canada and/or yours specifically. Support this data with senior library personnel explicitly speaking to the issues encountered by staff and the risk this poses to both staff and library patrons. Highlight how this compromises your library’s ability to deliver its mandate. This media campaign, using both social and traditional media channels, is meant to reinforce the libraries’ role as a welcoming place for all community members and a recognition of the important front-line role it plays in the community. At the same time, it will make clear that your library is forced to deal directly with mental health and addiction issues which requires significant library resources. This work is outside the scope and mandate of libraries and diverts focus from important library services. Emphasize that other community organizations must be supported to more appropriately respond to these issues.

Key Messaging

  • Canada’s libraries are welcoming places for all community members and provide critical services in our communities that meet the needs of children, youth, seniors, new Canadians, and the unemployed.
  • Canada’s urban libraries are integral to a vibrant democracy, a strong economy, and thriving communities. Community libraries promote the value of learning, literacy, access to technology, digital literacy and workforce development in an enjoyable and relaxing environment.
  • Communities thrive when local libraries are able to provide their core services of providing access to literacy and learning and as an important gathering place for community members.
  • All community members have the right to access our libraries. Libraries do everything they can to ensure this is always the case.
  • Library staff are routinely ready to step up and meet the needs of the community, but there are limitations on what society can expect of them.
  • But library staff are not equipped to deal with instances of overdose or those experiencing serious mental health and addiction issues on site – including the safety and security issues that are unfortunately becoming all too common in Canada’s urban libraries.
  • By way of example, Edmonton Public Library experienced almost 100 overdoses on site in 2022. Other urban libraries are experiencing similar numbers.
  • A survey of 33 urban Canadian public libraries found the most common types of incidents at libraries across the country are: drugs and/or alcohol (including paraphernalia and intoxication), violent or harassing behaviour, and trespassing by banned/suspended customers:
    • These incidents threaten the view of libraries as safe and welcoming places and cause trauma for those employees and users – many of whom desperately need access to a library – that witness these incidents on site.
    • While violent incidents are a small fraction of all library visits (less than 0.001% of all visits), they are increasing.
  • We know we are not alone. Transit systems, community centres, and retail/private businesses are experiencing these issues.
  • We want to ensure that those groups in our communities, who have as their mandate to assist those with mental health and addiction issues, have the resources from the federal and provincial governments to engage those individuals at risk and help them with the professionalism and experience they have at hand.

Supporting Information

  • Safe and welcoming libraries are a key part of a healthy community. Literacy, which libraries actively support and grow, is a key social determinant of health 4. Multiple studies find that higher literacy rates correlate with more positive health outcomes 5.
  • Libraries offer incredible value. For every $1 invested in Canada’s urban libraries, $6 is generated in community impact 6
  • Libraries are at their best when any member of the community can safely access their services. Libraries provide many valuable services for job seekers, newcomers, students, and the community as a whole. Research affirms that access to safe amenities like libraries is critical to creating thriving communities 7 and children 8.
  • Library staff are excellent at what they do and need professional healthcare and community organizations to drive the response to mental health and addictions issues.

Emphasize the amount of time and money spent dealing with security issues; and the lack of sustainable funding available to community organizations such as housing, social services, respite centres, shelters and mental health organizations.

Value of Public Libraries

Public libraries contribute to their communities in the many significant ways:
  1. Public libraries are critical to the economy. As literacy levels rise in a population, so does productivity. A 1% increase in adult literacy would create an economic benefit of $67 billion gross domestic product for Canada per year (source: Deloitte LLP. An Economic Overview of Children’s Literacy in Canada). Public library funding is dollar for dollar one of the most effective and impactful uses of public funds. Libraries also help people find employment with resources for job seekers, including resume assistance, job search workshops, and access to online job databases.
  2. Public libraries drive innovation. Libraries are constantly adapting to support growing and changing community needs. This iterative process creates the services and service models of tomorrow. Libraries also introduce people to technology that is not widely accessible in the community and act as a dynamic hub where the collision of ideas and skills inspires new ways of thinking, doing, and creating.
  3. Public libraries promote literacy and education. Literacy has a huge impact on a person’s ability to navigate life, find employment, secure housing, and access services. Libraries promote literacy through programs like story hours for children, adult literacy classes, and homework help for students, fostering lifelong learning and skill development.
  4. Public libraries prepare children to succeed in school. Libraries facilitate early childhood development with early literacy tools and resources that are the building blocks for children’s happy and healthy development. Early literacy sets the course for a child’s future and largely determines how well they do in school. Literacy also impacts children’s physical and mental health, relationships, and general well-being.
  5. Public libraries provide communities with unmatched value and access to a world of knowledge and information. Libraries offer free access to a vast collection of books, magazines, newspapers, and digital resources, ensuring that all community members can access the resources and information they need.
  6. Public libraries are an essential gathering place. Public libraries are open to all. In a society where free public space can be limited, libraries are an essential 3rd place between work and the home. We provide welcoming, safe, and inclusive spaces for community members to meet, study, work, or attend events, which creates social cohesion and a sense of belonging. While the pandemic created new opportunities for digital innovation and service expansion, it also highlighted that physical library spaces are essential to daily life for many in our community.
  7. Public libraries help build healthy communities. Every day, more and more people depend on public libraries for services — whether it’s training for a new job, access to the internet, early literacy development, or support via outreach and referrals. Libraries actively engage with communities and through partnerships to tailor these services to local needs.
  8. Public libraries make services more accessible. Libraries reach people where they are at when they need it most. We are uniquely positioned to provide services both in-person and digitally, while extending the reach of services provided by a network of partners. Together, we build a stronger network of information, learning, and enrichment opportunities that create greater impact in the community.
  9. Public libraries welcome newcomers. New Canadians are a significant portion of city populations. Public libraries are central hubs of information and resources for newcomers to help them transition into their new community. For many newcomers, a library card is their first piece of identification.
  10. Libraries enrich culture and help preserve local history. Libraries champion the ideals of respect, tolerance, inclusion, and equality for all people. We host cultural events, author talks, book clubs, and art exhibitions, enriching the cultural life of the community and encouraging creativity and expression. Libraries also support the preservation of a community’s cultural heritage by providing access to historical documents and sharing the stories of our past that help us shape our future. The Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action, assert the need to share the truth of our past and connect individuals together to learn and heal in a journey of reconciliation.
  11. Libraries protect the fundamental freedoms of thought, beliefs and expression that allow every Canadian to gather different ideas, hear all sides of an issue and compile information to be well-informed. Society is better off engaging with complex, difficult and even controversial content rather than being sheltered through censorship. It is the responsibility of libraries to guarantee and facilitate access to all expressions of knowledge and intellectual activity, including those which some members of society may consider to be unconventional, unpopular, or unacceptable.