Sometime this past week, a very well written and interesting essay titled “The Secret Life of a Public Library Security Guard” made the rounds on the internet. I was immediately drawn to this article because of my strong belief in the importance of having a strong security staff at urban public libraries. What’s that belief? It’s simple. A strong security staff at all urban public libraries is critical for the health of the organization. When an urban public library has a strong security staff, this allows both the community and the librarians to better utilize the library as a community center. Everyone loves a happy, healthy, and safe place. Security in an urban library setting allows the public library to establish that “safe place” setting.
The second reason I was drawn to the article was because I had a professional connection to the subjects of the article. From 2010-2013, I worked at the Portland Public Library and as manager of the Teen Library had a great working relationship with the security staff at the library. The security staff at the Portland Public Library is top notch. Marko, Paul, and the other members of the staff run a tight ship that allows the library to be the community center for Portland, ME. Simply stated, the security staff at the Portland Public Library puts forth many of the qualities of what an urban public library security staff should be: safety first, community oriented, and human focused. This comes directly from the security staff, a group of employees who at their core care about the public library and the community. You can see this when Petrovich states at the end of the essay, “You don’t need to respect me,” he reminds patrons. “Respect this place. Respect this library is public.”. They’re at the library to help keep it a safe place for the community.
I know that to most non library people who read the article that the entire “sex, drugs, booze” slant of the article stood out the most. I bet many people thought “THIS STUFF HAPPENS IN THE PUBLIC LIBRARY WHERE I TAKE MY KIDS TO STORY TIME/PICK UP MY DVDs/USE THE INTERNET?” The answer is yes. This stuff goes on at pretty much any library around the country. I’ve worked in big libraries and I’ve worked in small libraries. It happens everywhere. It’s a part of the job that all librarians have to face, understand, and come to terms with. It will never fully go away, and this is another reason why it is important for larger urban libraries to have a security staff. They’re the people that make sure this kind of stuff doesn’t happen in the library or if it does, they make sure it doesn’t happen again. They do all of this without the community and staff (usually) knowing that anything happened.
Marko and the security staff at the Portland Public Library have done an amazing job at making their library a safe and welcoming place for their community. Their efforts and care for the library and the community show in their day to day work. Their leadership and management of all things security related at their library help make the community of Portland, ME a better place for the citizens.
Public libraries, take note. The Portland Public Library Security Team have developed a great model for how we should manage our spaces.