Public Library Safety & Security Toolkit

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Patron Expectations

Patron expectations (referred to as Customer, User, Visitor, etc. in some libraries) set guidelines on what a patron’s behaviours and responsibilities are in the library. These are important for patrons, staff, and security personnel because when an incident occurs, these guidelines also outline what the consequences are when expectations are not met. There are different ways and tools to organize and communicate patron expectations. Increasingly, libraries are taking a trauma informed approach where consequences increase based on the frequency of incidents and the severity of incidents. There are also processes in place for patrons to appeal suspensions.

Where Patron Expectations Fit in the Library Journey

Patron expectations are relevant the moment a patron approaches the library and continues right through to the incident response and post-incident recovery stages of the library journey. When an incident occurs in the library, staff and management need to have the tools and resources to properly address the incident. Patrons and staff can also expect that the library will debrief and learn from each incident and provide post-incident recovery supports.

Key Considerations

Different libraries have different names for what a patron’s set of guidelines are, including Code of Conduct, Rules of Conduct, etc. These guidelines can be used to remind patrons of what is expected of them prior to or following the breaking of a guideline. They can also be used to justify a consequence once a guideline has been broken.

Libraries generally have similar patron guidelines; however, they are unique to each library system depending on the size, location and community served, that can include (but are not limited to):

  • Being courteous and respectful to other patrons, staff, and library property;
  • Being mindful of personal hygiene and wearing appropriate attire;
  • Using library resources for their intended purposes; and
  • Being responsible for those in your care, such as children.

Examples & Templates

Code of Conduct

Rules of Conduct are organized around three key items, including:

  1. Act Safely and Responsibly
  2. Be Considerate of Others
  3. Be Respectful of the Space

Each item includes four or five additional points that provide guidance and details to library patrons on what the Rules entail. Ultimately it notes that the guidelines are in place for the safety of community members, visitors, and staff and to provide a welcoming space for the enjoyment of library services and facilities by all. 

Halifax Public Libraries

Halifax Public Libraries outlines four key expectations within the Customer Conduct Policy:

  1. Consideration for others
  2. Respectful communication
  3. Intentional use of materials and space
  4. Respecting privacy when filming and photographing in the library

Greater Victoria Public Library

The Greater Victoria Public Library frames the Responsibilities and Conduct of Library Users policy as a set of statements that all users agree to, such as “I agree to not engage in disruptive behaviour, such as creating excessive noise, or misuse Library property”.

Mississauga Library

Conversely, the Mississauga Library’s Code of Conduct is a series of requests for how customers behave, such as “we ask you to keep noise levels to a minimum”.

Toronto Public Library

The Toronto Public Library has a Rules of Conduct Policy that includes two parts:

  1. The Rules of Conduct Policy – Sets the expectation that customers support a welcoming environment for everyone using the library. It also lists the behaviours that are unacceptable and may lead to an exclusion.
  2. The Exclusion, Appeals and Reinstatement Policy – Describes how exclusions are administered, how customers may appeal an exclusion and how customers may request reinstatement following a 12-month exclusion.

Code of Conduct Policies

Advice on How to Manage Hostile Communications

New Brunswick Public Library

The Office of the Provincial Security Advisor in New Brunswick issued advice in January 2021 to support Government of New Brunswick employees dealing with hostile communications from members of the public. For example, for phone calls of concern, the Office asks employees to refer to the following points:

  • No employee deserves to be treated abusively by a member of the public.
  • It is natural to feel anxious or unsettled when speaking with an aggressive caller.
  • Although anger from the caller may be directed towards you, do not take their words personally.
  • Use your instinct to determine when a called has crossed the line. Indicators may include swearing, yelling, ranting, or making threats.
  • Once the line is crossed, make the following statement (or one similar to it) and end the call: “I am now going to end this call as I feel your behaviour is inappropriate. You are welcome to call back in the future when you are willing to speak with us in a reasonable way.”
  • Similar guidance is provided for emails of concern and threatening communications.

Responding to Youth Behaviours

The library is often viewed as a safe space for children to begin exercising their independence. The library is often the first place youth attend alone without their parents. There are unique considerations for managing the behaviour of unattended youth within library spaces:

  • Conditions for the supervision of children – Direct supervision of children is not a service libraries offer. Policies should outline the library’s expectations for when it is or is not appropriate to leave a child unattended at the library.
  • Age as a mitigating factor  – When applying consequences for code of conduct violations, libraries may take the customer’s age into account, and have differing consequence for children than adults.
  • When to involve parents – for older children who attend the library independently, staff may not have a relationship with the youth’s parents. When a behavioural incident occurs, the library may need to involve parents. Providing guidelines to staff about when and how to engage with parents is a strategy many libraries have adopted.
  • When to involve police or child protective services – Recognizing the vulnerability of children, each province has laws that govern the expectations for ensuring the safety of children in the community. These laws override libraries’ privacy policies and may require reporting of concerns directly to child protective services and/or the police. As a best practice, libraries should outline for staff when they are required by law to report situations they observe within the library to other authorities.

Examples & Templates

Hamilton Public Library

The Hamilton Public Library, in its customer conduct matrix, outlines escalating consequences for leaving children in the library without adequate care. For the first incident, a letter is issued to the parents or caregivers. Upon a second incident, a letter is issued, the police are notified, and the issue is referred to child welfare officials.

Edmonton Public Library

The Edmonton Public Library’s customer conduct policy asks that staff support caregivers when dealing with young children who are unintentionally disruptive. The suspension policy also outlines the need for discretion when determining what consequences are appropriate for youth involved in an incident, such as allowing conditional usage of services if a parent or caregiver is available.

Saskatoon Public Library

The Saskatoon Public Library outlines the conditions under which children may be unattended within the library:

Section 2: Children
Children under the age of 10 must be accompanied by a caregiver who is at least 12 years old.
During programming:
  • Caregivers must accompany children under three.
  • Caregivers of children aged three to five who are attending a program must remain in the Library for the duration of the program.
  • Caregivers of children aged six to nine who are attending a program can leave the Library during the scheduled time of the program.

SPL is not responsible for children’s use of the internet while in the Library. Children must comply with appropriate use rules outlined in Section 10.