Public Library Safety & Security Toolkit

Calgary Public Library


Health & Wellness

While the number of incidents, and particularly very serious incidents, are comparatively low in libraries, their intensity and frequency have increased over time and the impact can range from feeling unsafe to a traumatic response. As a result, factors contributing to the health and wellness of library employees are an integral part of this safety and security toolkit. Labour unions across the country are also concerned about the impact of safety and security issues on library workers.

Two studies highlighting key issues include:

  1. A 2023 study by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) found that among library workers, 78% had experienced verbal abuse, 71% had witnessed violence, 50% had experienced violence, and about 40% had experienced sexual harassment or threats of physical harm (see Evidence Brief: Approaches to Public Library Safety, Canadian Municipal Network on Crime Prevention). These experiences have significant impacts on feelings of safety and have led to growing concerns regarding workplace safety.
  2. In 2020, The Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research published a paper titled The Public Librarian Low-Morale Experience: A Qualitative Study and it points to overwork, mission creep, and understaffing as compounding what the general public believes librarians traditionally have done and by their notions of what else librarians should be doing in light of technological advancements, market and industry disruptions, and a lack of community and/or social services. This study identifies opportunities for a deep look at how communities, their political leaders, and library leaders perceive the value and the roles of the people working in their community libraries. Opportunities for empathetic, authentic, and servant leadership are identified.

There are several resources available to support health and wellness of library employees. These resources are supported by, but distinct from, the training and professional development resources related to safety and security that are included in the Training and Professional Development section.

Where Health & Wellness Fits in the Library Journey
The health and wellness of library staff is a key priority throughout the library journey, and particularly to the Incident Prevention, Incident Preparation, Incident Response, and Post-Incident Recovery stages.

Key Considerations

  • Health and wellness are influenced by the system in which library employees work. Two-way communication between management and staff is critical to keeping information flowing, strengthening trust and understanding, and working collaboratively to understand and address safety and security challenges.
  • Equity, diversity, and inclusion is integral to health and wellness.
  • Serious events can have a significant impact on all involved. Recovery supports and coping strategies are important to supporting employees following an incident.
  • Systems for clear communication between library employees and library management are critical to ensuring an ongoing, open, two-way flow of information related to safety and security issues.

Health and Wellness Resources

“Everyone should be able to realize their potential at CPL. Everyone has a right to feel respected, safe, and included within the Library and community. To ensure that, we must work to eliminate societal barriers to full inclusion in our programs, services, internal operations, and institutional culture. We have a responsibility to create and maintain an environment of equity, diversity, inclusion, and dignity in all spaces we occupy and in all aspects of our community role. We continue to listen, learn, and act in collaboration with the City of Calgary and community partners.” - Calgary Public Library

For resources to support the health and wellness of library employees, several organizations have workplace wellness or employee assistance programs available for access. There are also a wide range of other resources available to support health and wellness, including:

  • Crisis Services Canada’s Plan for Resilience – Workplace Edition for Leaders, Employees and Self-Employed. The focus of the toolkit is on developing personal resilience, helping people move from merely surviving to actually thriving. It examines choices for dealing with stress and adversity, including:
    • Accept the things and people you really cannot change.
    • Avoid unnecessary stress by learning how to say no and stick to your boundaries.
    • Shift your external environment in some way so the stress is reduced or eliminated.
    • Adapt your internal thought processes.
  • Workplace Strategies for Mental Health, an initiative of Canada Live. There are three main objectives, including:
    1. Increase knowledge and awareness of workplace psychological health and safety;
    2. Improve the ability to respond to mental health issues and work; and
    3. Turn knowledge into action through practical strategies and tools for employers.
  • My Workplace Health has a Psychological Health and Resiliency Toolkit designed to give individuals strategies for enhancing their psychological health and resiliency. Resources are provided on:
    • managing stress,
    • automatic thoughts,
    • behavioural goal setting,
    • breathing exercises,
    • gratitude,
    • meditation, and
    • sleep hygiene.
  • Homewood Health has a similar resource, Experiencing a Traumatic Event: Recovery and Coping Strategies. It reviews possible reactions to traumatic incidents and answers questions such as:
    • Are these reactions “normal”?
    • Do these reactions always occur right after the event?
    • Is there any way to avoid these types of reactions?
    • What can you do?
  • The Crisis and Trauma Resource Institute has a Crisis Response Checklist. It notes the emotional impact that follows situations of high intensity and identifies what needs to happen as part of the initial response, responding to the emotional needs of those impacted, and what to do after the initial crisis response.

Examples and Templates

Calgary Public Library

There are many different examples of job descriptions to support health and wellness in libraries.

The Calgary Public Library has a Safety & Wellness Officer position responsible for recommending, contributing to and implementing the Library’s philosophy and strategy with respect to safety, wellness and disability to ensure they move the organization closer to achievement of vision, mission, values and business objectives.

Specifically related to safety and wellness, the responsibilities of this position include:

  • Monitor and ensure compliance with applicable Safety Legislation and CPL’s safety program.
  • Develop and implement health and safety strategies to promote a safe workplace.
  • Active participation as the Co-chair on the Joint Health and Safety Committee.
  • Develop, recommend, implement and lead in-house health and safety communications and training programs.
  • Maintain and monitor WCB claims and reporting; identifies and recommends areas for improvement.
  • Maintain organizational safety records, identifies trends and make recommendation to promote a safe workplace.
  • Provide expertise in conducting safety investigations and inspections as required and recommends preventative measures.
  • Develop and provide for wellness and employee assistance programs to support the library’s effectiveness.
  • Provide services to enable employee success while maintaining the well-being of the library.
  • Coordinate a range of occupational health and wellness services such as pre-placement health assessments, ergonomic assessments, vaccinations, and health promotion programs.

Related to disability management, the responsibilities of this position include:

  • Develops and leads a progressive health and disability management program with a focus on wellness, prevention and return to work processes for both occupational and non-occupational disability claims.
  • Designs and delivers education and training initiatives and works with return to work stakeholders to review and develop relevant policies and procedures.
  • Ensures accommodation and graduated return to work programs are in place to meet the needs of disabled employees.
  • Integrates the basic benefits program with disability management.

Toronto Public LIbrary

There are many activities that many libraries implement to create and maintain a strong culture of open communication within the library team. From meetings to town halls, these touch-points are important to the relationships needed to support health and wellness at work in the library.

The Toronto Public Library has several internal mechanisms it uses to support communication on safety and security issues with staff, including:

  • Regular all-staff virtual town hall meetings which include updates on safety and security, along with an open Q&A session where staff can ask questions of the senior management group. Sessions are recorded so staff can view the town halls at any time.
  • In 2023, TPL has been holding in-person branch town hall meetings at branches with high rates of incidents, with a focus on safety and security.
  • TPL is also in the process of implementing a new site on the library intranet where staff can find updated information on safety and security and associated action plans that are underway.
  • Safety and security topics are included as standing items in monthly Labour Management Committee meetings, and quarterly Labour Strategy Committee meetings with senior union leaders.