My first library job, lo these many years ago, was providing computer support to users of the downtown branch of a big public library. I handed out internet access codes, took quarters for each printed page, and helped senior citizens navigate the world wide web.
Sometimes, the job got tougher: I had to crack down on rule breakers. Users would cadge extra computer time by stealing other library card numbers, or aggressively push the limits on appropriate content to watch online in a public space (and what personal activities to engage in while watching that content).
Whenever a library user’s actions made the library unwelcoming for those around them, it was my job to remind them of the expectations for our shared public space. I was all of 20 years old, soft-spoken and inexperienced in conveying authority. A confrontation with another grown adult about bad behavior could get very uncomfortable quickly. Whenever I got up from the computer desk to have that hard conversation, I was steeled by the knowledge that Jim had my back.
Jim was our library’s full time security guard. He worked second shift, covering the hours when most users were in the library, and spent the day on his feet making the rounds. Jim made a point of knowing every employee, even part time library assistants like me. He checked in at every desk on every round to ask how things were going. He was friendly to users as well as staff, but could turn on a stern gaze that dispelled trouble before it started.
Jim’s reassuring presence helped me and all his fellow library employees fulfill our own roles serving users in the library. This is what leadership at every level looks like.
I remembered Jim as I read Dana Bialak’s recent profile of Marko Petrovich, a public library security guard in Portland, Maine. Bialak’s piece is a touching portrait of a person dealing with all the challenges that users can bring to an open community space.
Library security is a hot-button issue. The wish is that there were no need for security guards; that users would regulate their own behavior with regard to others in the library. Until that is consistently the case, library employees are grateful for a security assist. Bialak addresses the need for security sensitively, saying, “To be an officer of the library is to be a steward of it. They must be civilized and caring toward the space, its resources, and, most importantly, its patrons.”
I was touched by the description of Petrovich balancing his security work with kindness toward those patrons. He handles an unfortunate poop incident, for instance, with more grace than most of us could ever muster. The profile is more than worth a read if you work in a library, if you use a library, or if you have a library in your community.
Here’s to Marko, and to Jim, and to all the public library security guards. Thank you for your efforts in keeping our public spaces friendly, safe, and open to all users. May your shifts be quiet and your libraries well-used.