Archives For library security

Interpol-biometric-1The plastic library card is a dinosaur. It needs to go. It’s an embarrassing relic of what-we’ve-always-done. Nostalgia aside (that took me a second), I look forward to the day when libraries join the rest of the world, get rid of the card, and move towards a username/password system (or something better).

Let me go out on a limb here: nobody wants another plastic card in their wallet or purse or hanging from their keys: another thing to remember, another thing to lose, another thing to clutter our end tables. From a customer service perspective, the library card has no benefits whatsoever. But it does have an array of annoying features. First, it’s not important enough to remember. Let’s drink a tall glass of humility on this. People care about their Driver License, their credit cards, and that’s about it. I’ll speak for myself: all I want in my perfect minimalist wallet is one credit card, one debit card, a driver license, and some money. Even for someone on the inside, a librarian who goes to the library every single day, having a library card is not a priority that deserves real estate in my wallet (I memorized my number).

Working at a library, I see this all the time. People don’t remember their library card. When helping people over the phone, people don’t have their library card on hand (“Can I have your library card number please?” “Oh, shoot, let me go find it,” they say). Hint, hint: they don’t care. Second, it comes with a stupid, outdated, lengthy number on it – a 13 digit library card number. Mine is 120242015…oh, never mind. The number is so long it gets printed with spaces between it, so it’s easier to read!

But it gets worse. Not only is a 13-digit number holding us back from accessing our account, but a 4-digit “PIN” too. What? Are you serious? As in… “personal identification number?” Is this an ATM machine (pun intended)? Not surprising, we have to explain to grown adult people every single day what “PIN” means (turns out, it actually means ‘the last 4 digits of your phone number’….what? OMG. LOL).

Hypothesis: a lot of people use libraries when they need to, at certain points in their life, in stages, not all the time, like the local grocery store. Not everyone is a lifelong power user. The library card, therefore, is dispensable, disposable, and short lived. John needs to print something. He thinks: the library has computers! He goes to the library. The library puts him through the ceremony that is getting a library card (proof of address? ID? email? phone number? preferred way to contact you?). He’s getting annoyed. He prints his resume and visits the library in 5 years. Yet even if people consistently used the library for several years (which they might), the library card still has no place or relevance.

One Problem with My Argument – the Barcode

When I said the library card has “no benefits whatsoever,” I lied. It has one. Libraries like mine have self-checkout machines, which are tied to barcode scanners, which allows you to enter the 13 digit number by scanning the card itself. That saves time, assuming you have your stupid card with you to begin with. In fact, different library technologies are in bed with the barcode (we have a mobile app that saves your barcode, for example). With a username or email, on the other hand, we would need a different solution.

Finger Scan to Check Out Library Books? Yes, Please.

Call me naive, but I think biometric technology should seriously considered for checking out materials (and getting on a public computer). Scan your finger, check out, and go – fast, easy, convenient. The technology is here, cheap, and….creepy? Maybe.

Maybe not. A word about privacy. For some this brings to mind dystopian sci fi movies. Calm down. First, biometic technology doesn’t really scan your finger print, like the police would do. It’s not a scan. It takes certain measurements of your fingerprint and converts them into numbers, which distinguish you from another library member. Second, and most importantly, the library protects your privacy more than anyone. We are not some greedy corporation. Not only do libraries actually care about your privacy, we have to. According to the Library Privacy Act, we cannot give out patron information unless the police has a warrant for it (and I wonder if that ever happens). Third, this would be an optional service, patrons could opt-in. Do you want to check out items faster? Yes? Then give us your finger. No? Okay fine, use the old way weirdo.

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.

Be Prepared

Eva —  December 10, 2013 — Leave a comment
Photo by author

Photo by author

After the shooting at my library in 2009, it was clear that I needed to do a better job of keeping my employees and patrons as safe as possible in emergencies.

We have since updated our emergency procedures and the physical building. Luckily, our township has a top-notch Public Safety department to advise us, which includes police, fire, and emergency planning services. I am also lucky in that my managers and staff are really good at planning, documenting, implementation, and training.

One of our employees is the designated Emergency Manual person. She makes sure our emergency procedures are up-to-date and disseminated to staff, schedules and implements drills and training, keeps our emergency supplies current, and makes suggestions for policy changes and other improvements.

The Emergency Manual covers just about everything: building evacuation, severe weather, power outages, plumbing problems, roof leaks, bomb threats, and (now) active shooter incidents. At our Staff Inservice Day this year, she organized our first active shooter drill, with two police officers playing the roles of shooters who were trying to get into various areas of the library to find victims. I am pleased to say that we passed with flying colors–given the terrific response from my staff back in 2009, this didn’t surprise me.

Our IT and Security staff upgraded our camera system from analog to digital, adding dozens of cameras to the public areas and the building exterior. A township police sergeant walked the building with us to determine priorities and placement. More than 50 cameras are now viewable from any staff computer, in single views or multiple configurations. We have worked on this project in phases over the last four years using the priorities we established. The camera upgrades came in  handy as we lost staff through attrition–usage went up at the same time, which meant it was difficult for our reduced staff to physically patrol all of the nooks, crannies, and blindspots in our building.

We also upgraded our door access system. Previously, only a few employees had keys to the staff entrance, and most everyone else had to push a buzzer and wait to be let in to the building. With the buzzer going off all the time, we got into a pattern of just buzzing people in automatically, without always checking who they were. We worked with our alarm company to upgrade the door system. Now, all regular employees use their ID badges to enter the building themselves (temps and volunteers still get buzzed in). If an employee loses her badge, we can immediately deactivate the old badge and issue a new one with a new security code. Badge access can be restricted to certain times of day depending on the employee, and arm/disarm ability can be assigned permanently or on an as-needed basis, like for specific Pages coming in on a holiday to empty the return bins. The managers and I still have physical keys to the building for when the power goes out.

We also secured staff spaces. Doors from the public areas to the staff areas were previously unlocked and unsecured; it wasn’t uncommon for a preschooler to wander into the children’s staff workroom. At the Checkout Desk, a waist-high swinging gate was all that kept people from entering the staff area. We replaced the swinging gate with an actual door, and all doors leading to staff areas now require badge access. At the moment, it is possible for a determined interloper to hoist him/herself over the Checkout Desk counter and get into the staff area; in 2014 this will no longer be possible thanks to a small renovation project that will make our staff areas totally secure.

Due to the door access upgrade, everyone now wears ID badges. Before, nametags were worn…sometimes…by most people. When you have more than 100 employees and about as many volunteers and Friends of the Library, it can be difficult to tell who is wandering and who really is official–you may know the people you work with all the time, but it is nearly impossible for everyone to know everyone else on sight. The ID badges have helped with this.

Wearing an ID badge may have been the most difficult transition for my employees to make. I’ve worked in retail and in corporate settings, where ID badges are a “so what?” issue, but there is something about libraries where we are resistant to ID badges. (I understand people’s concerns, but I disagree that the concerns are so compelling that they outweigh the benefits of our ID badges.) We facilitated adoption by tying the badges to building access–you can’t get in the building or into staff areas if you don’t have your badge to open the doors (well, okay, you can, but it means you have to wait for someone to stop being busy so that they can let you in, so there’s a barrier). Some people expected all kinds of ID badge horrors, but our biggest problem was that the first-generation badges broke easily, so we bought new badges last year that are more heavy duty and less brittle.

We have panic buttons at some service desks, and when they are pushed, it opens a line to our alarm company, who alerts police/fire. We actually had these panic buttons already; I mention them because it is part of our overall safety plan. The button is mounted to the underside of the desk, similar to what you’d see in a bank.

Ongoing communication is key to making sure we’re up to date and prepared for emergencies. We encourage employees to submit Incident Reports for anything that causes concern, and to call the police if they decide it’s necessary. I have told them that they’ll never get in trouble for submitting too many incident reports; they actually help me and the managers to see patterns of behavior and connect the dots if there is one patron who is giving everyone a hard time.

We stay in touch with our Sergeant, who comes over every year or so to do a walk-around. Public Safety has also made it clear that they will support us whenever we call them, and now we are less hesitant about calling them if needed. In most cases, when a troublesome person hears one of my staff say that she will call for a patrol car, the confidence in her voice is enough to get the patron to comply. In the cases where we do call for an officer, the police take us seriously and respond quickly.

I know that I can’t make my library 100% secure all of the time. Since the shooting four years ago, though, we’ve made some really great improvements that bring me peace of mind. If an emergency occurs at the library, I am confident that my employees have the tools, skills, and training to address it.

Tears, Like a Boss

Eva —  November 13, 2013 — 7 Comments

I am known for being emotionally level. People have called me an automaton, and I’ve taken it as a compliment. But even I cry at the library. My most tear-filled week was in September 2009, when there was a murder-suicide in our parking lot.

by sethoscope via cc

by sethoscope via cc

I was out at a meeting when one of my managers called and said, “We’re all fine, but there’s been a shooting in the parking lot and I think you need to come back.” The hour it took me to excuse myself from the meeting, get back to my car, and drive to my library was one of the longest hours of my life. I made calls to my family and my Board Chair, and couldn’t keep the tears from flowing while I explained that there had been a shooting and that I was racing back to the building. After I finished the calls, I spent the rest of the drive crying.

The parking lot was sealed off when I arrived. I parked across the way and walked through the crowd of reporters and onlookers. The Deputy Police Chief recognized me, pulled me aside, and filled me in: A man had killed a woman and then killed himself. He wasn’t going to let me by. My eyes teared up; I was frustrated that I couldn’t get in there to do my job. I told him I needed to get in to the library to talk with my employees, my managers, my patrons. I needed to get in there to plan, to contact my board, to make arrangements to close for the day. He conferred with the Public Safety Director, and told me to walk the long way around the building (to avoid the crime scene), but he did let me go in.

Once inside, I tried to be all business. I called my managers together and we discussed the details of closing–all the notices and processes and signs that needed to be taken care of. I remember having a moment, checking myself; two members of my community were dead in front of our library, and I’m sitting here talking about issues as mundane as changing the phone message? It seemed crazy and surreal, and yet it needed to be done. So I did it. I held it together–we all held it together–and got the practical items taken care of.

When all of the patrons and staff gave statements and the officers left the building, officially closing us down, I called my employees together. Looking at their expectant faces, I burst into tears. (I’m not an attractive crier, by the way–the eyes puff, the nose runs, the mouth twists into grotesque sobs.) I cried as I told them how proud I was of their quick actions to call 911, secure the building, yell at people to get the *$@! away from the windows, and protect innocent people from harm. I cried as I told them how the phone call made my stomach fall. I cried as I said how glad I was that none of them were hurt. I cried as I told them how sorry I was that I hadn’t been here for them. I was still crying when I told them that we would not reopen that day, and that everyone should go home and be with their families.

Our HR manager arranged for a grief counselor to come that week. I was one of the first people in line to see him, and when he patted my arm and said, “I know you are probably blaming yourself in some way, and you shouldn’t. This wasn’t your fault,” I started crying again, in front of this stranger. Because it was true–I couldn’t help but feel like I’d failed by not being here when the shooting happened. I am the director, I am responsible for my people, my patrons, their safety–I should have been here, I should have protected them. He said this was a natural tendency, and we had a good talk.

I felt weak for crying in front of everyone–my family, my board chair, the police, my coworkers, the counselor. I believed that good directors don’t cry in front of their employees. Still fairly new, in only year two of my job, I was convinced that I’d lost all credibility–no one would ever take me seriously again, and I would forever be branded as an emotional wreck of a boss who cried (a lot).

I was wrong. Employees came by to check on me. They hugged me (which made me cry–I told you, I cried a lot that week). They told me that crying humanized me. My tears showed how much I cared about them. My clear sadness about the deaths of two of our neighbors showed how much I cared about the community. My Board Chair told me later that my ability to focus on the situation while also crying at the same time showed that I was the right person to lead the library, that I had a good balance of head and heart (I think she was being overly generous here because she knew I was at a low point–I am way more head than heart).

I am still largely a level-headed automaton, but I learned that week that it is possible for me to be emotional at work and still be considered an effective boss.

Who’s at the wheel?

nighthawk309 —  April 26, 2013 — 1 Comment

(David Coates/The Detroit News)

The Detroit News reported this week that a person was murdered in a hotel while a mannequin was in a truck marked “security” in the hotel’s parking lot.  The headline read “Woman killed at Detroit hotel guarded by mannequin identified.” See the article here. What in the world does this have to do with library leadership? Read on.

Hotel management was trying to project an illusion of safety and preparedness.  A mannequin sitting in a truck was supposed to tell people the place was being watched and therefore secure.  It may have done the trick on some days, but when it really mattered, it wasn’t enough.

Is your library truly prepared?   Planning for a full range of scenarios is essential in library management.  Necessary plans range from sound budgets to comprehensive policies to strategic plans to emergency preparedness and beyond.

Are your plans thorough and complete?  Document, document, document.  Write down your plans and make them readily accessible.  Get input from staff at all levels to make sure your bases are covered.  Attack your plans from a variety of perspectives to make sure they’ll hold up when needed.

Do you have the right people in the right place?  People are key to making plans happen.  Get your staff prepared, make sure you have the right people where you need them and make sure everyone is on the same page.

If you identify a need–like security–do it right so you’re ready when it matters (hint: a mannequin won’t cut it).