Continuing Education

Black Belt Librarians: Real World Library Security with Warren Graham

imagesThis 9:00am to 3:30pm workshop was held at Appleton Public Library and was sponsored by the Outagamie-Waupaca Library System, Winnefox, and Nicolet Library Systems on Wednesday, December 10, 2014. According to the OWLS Continuing Education page, “Warren Graham, the leading authority on day to day library security, will share the essential elements of a truly effective security program:
  • How to approach a patron to advise them of a rule in a way that will most likely ensure their compliance and keep you safe at the same time.
  • The right mindset staff must have to keep them from being the behavior problem!
  • How to recognize and best respond to different levels of patron emotion.
  • Day to day security tips to immediately make staff safer.”

I highly recommend that all library systems hire Warren as a consultant to further educate library personnel on how to do their jobs with safety in mind. You can access Warren’s website here. His book, The Black Belt Librarian: Real World Safety and Securityis available on Finally, don’t let the name fool you…in this workshop, there was no physical violence, judo chops, or nunchuk wielding. We did not break boards with our bear hands, nor utilize the five finger death punch. No unruly patrons were harmed in the making of this workshop. You will find my notes from the workshop below. I would be happy to clarify any note that may seem vague or confusing; just ask me in the comments.

Black Belt Librarians: Real World Library Security with Warren Graham

  • Library security
    • “Control the environment”
    • Often librarians take abuse from patrons under the guise of “good customer service.”
    • People get themselves ejected by not following the rules.
  • Essential Elements
    • Simple security procedures
      • Empower the front line staff.
      • It should be natural.
    • Proper training
    • Fair and flexible
      • As much as patron behavior will allow.
    • Treat everyone the same.
      • Stay objective.
      • Same consequences for everyone
        • Enforce rules based on behaviors, not individuals.
  • Implementing Elements
    • Rules for library use
      • Simple and direct as possible.
      • Less is more.
      • “Any behavior that is disruptive to library use.” -bad smell, arguing fines, etc.
    • Guidelines for enforcement
      • Set thresholds for guidelines (ban for the day, week, month, year, etc.)
      • Limit chances given to patrons
      • Administrative backing
        • Front line staff must feel like they are supported.
    • Consistent enforcement
    • Quiet awareness
      • Don’t rely on cameras; rely on yourself.
      • Be aware of your surroundings.
      • 30-30-30
        • For 30 days, stop every 30 minutes and look around for 30 seconds.
          • Forms a neuropathway.
          • Will develop a tangible feeling (“bad vibe”).
        • Acknowledge patrons’ presence – “I see you. Don’t steal.”
    • Adequate security training – top-down training
      • Cameras are meant to augment your training, not replace it.
    • Document your security concerns
      • Incident reports (intranet, binder, etc)
        • Should be filled out the same day as the incident.
        • Should be as simple as possible.
          • What they did.
          • What your did.
          • What you did about it.
      • Security Log
        • Tracking rule enforcement
      • Potential Problem Log
        • Name (or moniker) and description
        • Problem, Date, Staff Member
  • Rules for Enforcement
    • Approach people with a positive frame of mind.
      • “Advise patrons about what the library does not allow”, rather than “enforcing rules”
    • Start out nice and become more stern, rather then vise versa.
      • “I know you didn’t see the sign, but…”
      • “I know there isn’t a sign, but…”
      • Don’t apologize for the policies.
        • Apologizing makes it seem like you don’t agree with the policy.
      • Do not become a helicopter librarian.
        • Thank the patron and walk away.
    • Approach people with a prudent sense of caution.
      • Appearances mean nothing when it comes to trouble.
      • Barrier between you and the patron
      • Personal space (~18 inches)
      • Approach a sleeping patron as if your are concerned for their health.
        • If they don’t respond, simply announce that you are calling a medic.
      • Never touch a patron. If you can touch them, you’re too close.
      • Never turn your back on a patron whose behavior your just corrected.
        • Create a gap between you and the patron before turning your back.
    • Be ready to be accused of bias.
      • Tactic to put you an the defensive.
      • Do not respond to these accusations.
    • Teens
      • Be proactive: Make it a point to acknowledge their presence in the library nonchalantly.
      • Be firm.
    • Never go outside with a behavior problem.
    • Make sure you have the right person.
  • Are you the behavior problem?
    • Be constantly prepared to respond (not react) to patrons.
    • Bad patrons are patrons, too.
    • Great attitude about job, but terrified to confront patrons = behavior problem.
    • Interpersonal skill begins with intrapersonal communitation.
    • Ask yourself:
      • Am I passive or aggressive by my very nature?
      • Am I emotional or a logic-based thinker?
      • Am I introverted or extroverted by nature?
        • The more willing you are to engage with patrons, the better off you are on multiple levels.
      • Do I generally like people?
      • Do I like my job?
  • Levels of Emotion
    • A – Anxiety – what you see when the patron is upset.
      • What to do?
        • Stop, look, listen.
      • Why?
        • To find out if they know what they’re talking about.
        • They may be pointing out a mistake on your/the library’s part.
          • At this point, it’s okay to apologize and make a change.
        • They may just be looking for someone to listen.
    • B – Belligerence- patron is no longer being civil; voice is carrying; may be cursing; maybe be name calling
      • What do you do?
        • Establish credibility as quickly as possible.
        • “Ma’am, your voice is carrying. Give me a chance to help you out.”
        • Tell them what you are not going to put up with.
        • Keep your ego out of it.
        • Never tell a belligerent patron to “calm down.”
        • Stay away from “rules,” “policies,” “procedures,” etc.
        • Make eye contact.
        • Willingly give your name, if requested.
      • You may feel nauseous, weak in the knees, jittery, etc. You are not falling apart. It’s a fight or flight response (adrenaline). This will enhance your ability to deal with the situation.
    • C – Control (out-of-control) – patron is cursing you. This patron is a time-bomb. They may be making wild motions toward you.
      • Threat to your safety.
      • Refuses to leave after being asked.
      • Drunk or high on drugs.
      • Sexual misconduct (exposing themselves, etc.)
        • What do you do?
        • Call the police! – if the police are called, that person should be banned permanently.
    • C – Calm – most patrons 98% of the time.
  • Every service desk at every library should have a copy of the rules available for patrons upon request.
Additional comments:
  • Unescorted adult in teen/children’s dept.? – No. This person needs to be watched. Should be for children or teens only.
  • People should not be allowed to look at anything they want on the computer.
  • Money handling – money drawer should be locked if no one is at the desk, each employee should have a key. How can we tighten this up?
  • Staff areas should be locked at all times.
  • Money should be kept at one desk only.




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