Public Library Safety & Security Toolkit



Safety and Security Tools & Strategies

There are specialized tools and expertise available to help enhance the safety and security in libraries and it’s important that libraries be aware of these. It’s also important to remember that the approach used when applying and implementing security measures can create barriers to those who would most benefit from library services – especially those that are excluded, marginalized, and underserved in our communities. The Canadian Municipal Network on Crime Prevention published a report in April 2023 that included both justification for, and criticisms of, increased surveillance and security measures. The boxes below highlight a few of the key points they raise.
Where Security Tools & Strategies Fit in the Library Journey

Security tools and strategies are relevant to prepare for, prevent, and respond to incidents. 

Key Considerations

There are many options when it comes to security tools and strategies. Things to consider when moving forward include:

  • Identify the big picture outcomes that are provoking you to reflect on safety and security – What are your goals and objectives? What outcomes are you aiming to achieve? Consider involving staff, community partners, library supporters, union leadership and others in identifying priorities for this work. Some examples of goals and objectives could include:
    Sample GoalsSample Objectives
    Proactively prevent security issues through the built environment.Complete a security audit at each location to understand the threat risk and a plan to address the audit findings.
    Have security services that are responsive to the library’s needs.Hire or contract security guards and develop in-house training for guards.
    Have the required policy, procedures,and guidelines to effectively address the strategy.Review existing policy, procedures,and guidelines; identify any gaps; and fill gaps, as/if required, with new policy, procedures and guidelines.
    Provide employees training to be able to address security issues and de-escalate patron interactions confidently and effectively.Identify security training needs; recommend training programs to address needs.
  • Assess risk – Thinking about risk is often based on two pieces of information – the likelihood of a particular incident happening and how serious the consequence of that incident may be. Together, this information helps libraries understand and prioritize when corrective action is required. Unlikely activities with insignificant consequence are low risk. At the other extreme would be activities very likely to occur with critical or catastrophic consequences. These are high or extreme risk. Risk assessments can run on a sliding scale from full organizational review to targeted reports on particular focus areas (i.e., location-specific, physical environment, workplace hazard assessments, security tools, etc.). It’s important to think about how to strike the right balance between inputs (internal and external), approach, and desired outcomes. External experts and resources, as well as community data and information, can add valuable insight and perspective. See examples from both the Hamilton Public Library and Edmonton Public Library.
  • Develop a workplan to achieve safety and security goals and objectives – Key information in a work plan can include (but is not limited to), description of a task, the associated cost, who is responsible for the task, the start and end date of the task, outputs and deliverables related to that task, and the status of the task.
  • Consider budget questions – Staff time, training, security equipment, social workers, and supplies to combat drug poisonings (e.g., naloxone kits) are all items related to safety that require resources. Costing these items to inform resourcing is important to acquiring the resources it needs to address safety and security priorities.
  • Consider equipment options and associated policies – There are many safety and security-related equipment options that are available for libraries to consider. Many are already in use, particularly in larger library systems, as part of an overall strategy to promote the safety of visitors, staff, and community members. Examples include (but are not limited to): security cameras, security fobs to prevent public access to staff-only areas, and headsets to ensure continuous communication among staff.
  • Create incident procedures and reporting protocols – Managing, reporting on, and documenting incidents is critical to identifying and tracking patterns of incidents and responses, and for learning. Having a structured approach is key, with a strong focus on specific, observable facts and avoiding speculation, judgement, and opinion. Some libraries use a more formal Incident Management Response System (IMRS). This is a standardized approach to emergency management that includes personnel, facilities, equipment, procedures, and communications operating within an organization. It identifies certain management functions that must be carried out, regardless of the number of persons who are available or involved in the emergency response. An IMRS maintains public confidence, is based on a set of core principles, and identifies roles and responsibilities for key staff.
  • Develop clear and concise materials to communicate key safety procedures to staff – This communication is often tailored to the needs of specific safety and security situations, for example: how to respond to hostile communications, including phone calls of concern, emails of concern, and threatening communication; how to safely respond to a situation where pepper/bear spray has been used; how to administer NARCAN.
  • Develop job descriptions for in-house safety and security-related positions – There are a range of different jobs and positions in libraries that are dedicated to supporting safety and security tasks. Larger systems create in-house positions.
  • Determine the need for dedicated library security guards – Often contracted through an external vendor, security guards in libraries can be responsible for greeting patrons, provide directional support for programs and services, and act as the eyes and ears of library activity. They support staff by identifying potential issues to in-charge staff and working in tandem with in-charge staff to speak to customers violating the Code of Conduct.
  • Develop a Safety Manual and/or Emergency Plan – These are documents that identify a wide range of potential safety issues and describe the library’s procedures in responding. Examples of topics covered in these procedures include (but are not limited to): fire, evacuation, shelter in place (emergency shelter), medical, severe weather, flooding, building structure, demonstration/occupation, weapons and extreme violence, children at risk, personal safety/disruptive patrons, problems related to alcohol/drugs, physical plant/computer failure, break-ins/vandalism/theft, hold-ups/robberies, and bomb threats. Separate documents may be developed for specific circumstances, for example the Lock Down Procedure followed by the Winnipeg Public Library Main Branch, the Millennium Library.

Promoting De-Escalation Tactics

De-escalation tactics rely on purposeful actions:

  • Remain calm – A purposeful demonstration of calmness and composure can enable de-escalation.
  • Change the setting – If possible, remove people from the area. This could involve parties to the conflict and onlookers.
  • Respect personal space – Maintain a safe distance and avoid touching the other person.
  • Listen – Give your full attention, nod, ask questions, and avoid changing the subject or interrupting.
  • Empathize – Present genuine concern and willingness to understand without judging. 

Creating a Safe Work Environment

Effective de-escalation tactics can be put in place before an incident even occurs.

  • If possible, regularly roam the floor to monitor patrons for signs of frustration, distress, or potential conflict. Addressing these concerns as soon as possible helps patrons feel seen and appropriately accommodated, reducing the likelihood of them resorting to inappropriate behaviour.
  • Keep space around service points as clear as possible. This reduces the possibility that a patron can use loose objects as weapons or damage library equipment.

Engaging Patrons

If a patron is already in an aggravated state, it is still possible to de-escalate the situation and reduce the likelihood of further conflict.

  • Before engaging with them, take a moment to assess the situation, your own emotional state, and the potential need for further support from other staff, security, or emergency services. If necessary, take a moment to calm yourself before speaking to the patron.
  • Be mindful of your body language and tone of voice. Stand a respectful distance (approx. 1-2 metres) away with a relaxed posture and loose, visible hands. Maintain an appropriate level of eye contact and a neutral facial expression as you speak to the patron and listen to their concerns. Try to set the tone and volume that you want the patron to adopt in the conversation (quiet, calm, rational).
  • Remain aware of the patron’s body language. If you notice any signs of potential aggression, prioritize your personal safety by giving them space and planning an escape route if needed.
  • Enter a scenario with the intention of gathering information unless it is an emergency. Listen attentively and acknowledge the patron’s feelings. Patrons who are upset often want to have their experiences heard and validated. Ask clarifying questions that require them to recall the sequence of events leading to the problem – this offers them an opportunity to explain themselves with less chance of further escalation. It is okay to agree with them or apologize to them if they have been treated unjustly, but refrain from offering your own opinions on the incident.

Opportunities in Library Branches Co-located with Other Facilities

Library branches co-located within or next to other facilities may have additional opportunities for collaboration on safety and security. Possible areas include:

  • Information Sharing Agreements – Libraries may develop information sharing agreements to share information between neighbours/other tenants about customers suspended by either party. Such agreements must take the library’s privacy policy into account. Regular meetings to share observations and trends between collocated partners is a common strategy.
  • Shared Security Infrastructure – In a shared building, security cameras, access and alarm systems may be shared without each entity separately administering their own. This may include cost-sharing agreements.
  • Security Personnel – In many cases, co-located services facilities offer opportunities to share security personnel. Libraries must weigh whether shared security personnel understand the unique values and mission of the library when considering such opportunities.

Assessing Risk - Examples

Different libraries use different structures to assess risk. The examples below were provided by different libraries, however important elements of the overall approach and concept are very consistent.

Edmonton Public Library

Edmonton Public Library uses a Hazard Assessment and Control tracking resource that assesses the severity of different hazard and the likelihood of different hazards associated with different tasks and activities in the library to determine a level of risk. They use that same resource to identify how the hazards will be eliminated or controlled. The graphic is an example of the risk of potential violence being experienced when performing customer service tasks along with legends explaining the notes in the table.

Edmonton Public Library's risk assessment

Hamilton Public Library