Updated March 2021
Safety is an issue of great importance in libraries of all types, though the most pressing safety issues are ever-evolving. There are a number of resources to assist with safeguarding patrons, employees, and property. In the 21st century this topic also extends to internet safety and security. Many libraries are establishing resource guides with in-depth information related to safety and security. A good example that covers basic safety can be found at Clemson University Library’s web site: https://libraries.clemson.edu/our-organization/policies/security/. Another good example can be found at Mugar Memorial Library at Boston University http://www.bu.edu/library/mugar-memorial/about/security/.
There are at least four subtopics to the general topic: (1) precautions to protect patrons and staff against acts of violence; (2) safeguarding collection materials from theft/vandalism; (3) internet protection; and, (4) procedural safeguards and response plans for natural and man-made disasters.
This libguide primarily treats subtopic 1, personal safety (for patrons and staff): precautions against acts of violence, and subtopic 2, precautions to protect against theft, as these two aspects are what primarily affect patrons. Subtopic 3 is generally best treated in forums associated with IT, while subtopic 4 has a well-established body of literature referred to as disaster preparedness or disaster planning. A 5th topic, workplace safety, which deals with occupational safety hazards, is most commonly considered with employment issues.
"Security Camera" by JeepersMedia is licensed under CC BY 2.0
For libraries that do not yet have a robust set of policies and procedures, one good way to get started is to first read short general treatments of the subject with hints for addressing low-hanging fruit. Dr. Steven Albrecht identifies top 10 security risks for academic and public libraries in this list: http://www.infotoday.com/cilmag/jun18/Albrecht--Top-10-Security-Risk-Factors-for-Public-and-Academic-Libraries.shtml. Warren Davis Graham’s Black Belt Librarian: Real World Safety & Security, published by ALA in 2012 is also a quick read, while Dr. Albrecht’s 2015 book, Library Security: Better Communication, Safer Facilities, also published by ALA, is just a bit longer. The publication entitled Disaster Management and Contingency Planning in Modern Libraries, published by IGI Global in 2016, has an entire section on “Making a Plan” that includes the methodologies of nine different libraries and library systems.
A very useful and motivating step in establishing a security program in an academic library is to establish a set of web pages on the public side of the library’s website with basic information on safety and security within the context of one’s parent institution. Examples include publishing a clear code of acceptable conduct with consequences for violations; links to campus safety resources such as police sponsored student escort services; routines to follow in reporting loss of property (i.e., lost and found and theft reports); pages giving applicable statutes prohibiting theft or mutilation of library materials; and/or pages noting special access procedures usually enforced for special collections. At a minimum, every academic library should have a page with tips on personal safety and security. Good examples, in addition to the above library links, can be found at the University of Georgia http://www.libs.uga.edu/adminservices/security/personal-safety and at Everglades University https://www.evergladesuniversity.edu/safety-and-security/.
Public libraries are often out in front of academic libraries on this subject, and much can be learned by perusing public library sites for tips and guidelines. An example of a well-constructed policy on safety/security in public libraries can be found at http://quincylibrary.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Library-Safety-and-Security-Policy.pdf, and this article is useful as well https://www.libraryjournal.com/?detailStory=safety-first-library-security.
Much has been written, spoken, and sadly witnessed with “active shooter” situations in public buildings in recent years. Tips and videos on preparation and response to active shooter situations can be found at:
ALA has also produced LibGuides with helpful information for finding resources about gun violence, developing security in response to gun violence, and for understanding gun laws.
Like all library safety and security issues, gun laws and responding to gun violence are continually developing. This helpful link from ALA provides some guidance on thinking about policy for 3D printing and guns: https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/blogs/the-scoop/patron-wants-3d-print-gun-library-policy/.
Note: The Committee wishes to thank Mr. Jonathan LeBreton, Senior Associate University Librarian, Temple University Libraries, for his valuable contributions and editing in the development of this page.
Opioids in Libraries
In more recent years, opioid abuse has become an epidemic within the U.S., affecting all areas of society—libraries included. Public libraries have probably confronted this issue more than academic libraries, but there is a wealth of information to draw upon from either perspective.
At first glance Social Justice would not appear to be a safety or security topic, but academic libraries should nevertheless contemplate how they want to represent themselves within this subject. Such topics have become especially divisive on campuses, and with the central location that libraries typically occupy at their universities, libraries are uniquely situated to be a place that students and other patrons look to as a haven and as a resource for information. In addition, many academic libraries routinely deal with social justice issues whether or not they categorize them that way, such as serving populations of diverse backgrounds and protecting patron privacy. The University of Kansas has an excellent LibGuide with many social justice resources that cover a variety of topics: https://guides.lib.ku.edu/socialjustice. In addition, Drexel University has a great LibGuide on online privacy: http://libguides.library.drexel.edu/privacy. Another notable resource for librarians for the all-over topic of social justice is http://www.ala.org/advocacy/which contains much information about diversity efforts within the profession as well as information about federal legislation, intellectual freedom, public policy, and other related topics.
Additional Resources on Library Safety and Security can be found at:
American Library Association: Safety and Security in Libraries (a very comprehensive bibliography) at http://www.ala.org/tools/safety-and-security
The Rare Book and Manuscript Section of ACRL has promulgated updated “Guidelines Regarding Security and Theft in Special Collections.” http://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/security_theft
Peer reviewed journal: Library & Archival Security: http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/wlas20/current#.UciLGZywUQI
Albrecht, Steve. Library Security: Better Communication, Safer Facilities. Chicago: ALA Editions, 2015.
Decker, Emy Nelson and Townes, Jennifer A. Disaster Management and Contingency Planning in Modern Libraries. Hershey, PA: IGI Global, 2016.
Jackson, Jerlando F. L. and Terrell, Melvin Cleveland. Creating and Maintaining Safe College Campuses: A Sourcebook for Evaluating and Enhancing Safety Programs. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publications, 2007.
Kahn, Miriam. The Library Security and Safety Guide to Prevention, Planning, and Response. Chicago: American Library Association, 2008.
Robertson, Guy. Disaster Planning for Libraries: Process and Guidelines. Waltham, MA: Chandos, 2015.
Wilkie, Everett C., Jr., ed and compiler. Guide to Security Considerations & Practices for Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collection Libraries. Chicago: Association of College & Research Libraries, 2011.