Thursday, January 12, 2017

Guns in the Library: You Have the Policy…How Do You Enforce It?

Imagine you are a library director or supervisor, and you arrive at work to find an incident report from an employee who worked the evening before. The report details an interaction during which staff asked an older male teen to leave for violation of the public behavior policy. Apparently, a parent called claiming her son witnessed a boy showing a gun while inside the library. Your astute staff member reviewed the surveillance tapes to try to find evidence of a gun but there was none. Knowing that firearms are prohibited in the library but not wanting to call the police without proof, your staff member approached the teen and told him of the phone call she received, and then asked him to leave. Problem solved?
Image of library staff member walking a tightrope
Image from

With the current epidemic of random violence, public library workers feel responsible for—yet vulnerable to—the public they serve. After concealed carry became legal in Wisconsin, many library boards modified their public behavior policies to prohibit firearms in the library. In addition, many library directors and boards have sought out and provided active shooter training for staff. These are great steps toward ensuring the safety of library workers and patrons alike. However, directors must work with their boards to develop policies and procedures that dictate how staff should handle a situation in which a threat is not imminent, such as in the case of an active shooter, but there is a heightened potential for harm. While this would certainly include an individual with a weapon, it is not limited to that scenario. All library workers should be trained to appropriately deal with situations that may put staff or patrons in danger.

If your policy states that weapons are prohibited, consider including an action plan in the event that this condition is violated. For example, the policy could state, “The Library is a weapon free environment. If staff become aware, whether by report or observation, that someone in the building may be carrying a weapon, they are directed to contact the Anytown Police Department by dialing 911, and the responding officer(s) will determine the appropriate response. Any person found to be carrying a weapon in violation of this will be suspended from the library for a period to be determined by the library director.”

Would one of your staff approach someone with a weapon? Do not risk finding out. Review your behavior policy and procedure manual and, with your library board, make any amendments necessary to take this decision out of the hands of the staff member facing the situation on the fly.

Written by Shannon Schultz, Public Library Development Team