February 17, 2018

FSU Shooting Highlights Need for Library Security

Strozier_pc5919Early in the morning of November 20 a lone gunman opened fire in Florida State University’s (FSU) Strozier Library, wounding three people. Around 12:30 a.m. staff and students inside Strozier called campus police to report that an armed subject, later identified as Myron May, had fired four shots outside the library and in its first floor lobby. Campus Law enforcement arrived in a matter of minutes to find May outside the library. When he ignored requests to drop his gun, then fired on the officers, he was shot and killed. Two of May’s victims were transported to local hospitals; a third was treated and released at the scene.

While the incident was tragic for all involved, and for the FSU community as a whole, it was also notable for the many ways in which it averted a worse outcome. At the time of the shooting several hundred students were in Strozier, the main library at FSU’s Tallahassee campus, many of them studying for finals. May, who was described by Tallahassee police chief Michael DeLeo as “struggling either psychologically or emotionally,” was carrying a .38-caliber handgun and additional ammunition.

However, Strozier Library’s security system and staff, recent emergency drills, a responsive police force, and a quick-thinking front desk employee all worked together to keep the students inside safe from harm.  “We were thankfully well-prepared for this,” FSU dean of libraries Julia Zimmerman told LJ.

SECURITY MEASURES IN PLACE

Until 2008, the library was freely open to the public, with no safeguards or constraints. But on Halloween of that year a student was raped in the stacks while shelving books in the middle of the day, prompting Zimmerman to institute substantial security measures. Within 24 hours library administration had installed a front desk ID check, and when the building was renovated in 2010 a turnstile entry system activated by FSU ID cards was put in (an adjacent handicapped-accessible gate is also ID-activated). In front of this system, in the lobby, is a security desk where visitors are required to sign in and register for a guest card. Strozier employs a full-time security staff, as well as student workers staffing the front desk. Because the library is open all night five days a week “it’s been an obsession of ours,” said Zimmerman, who is in her eighth year as dean of libraries, “that people can come to the library any hour of the night or day and know that once they’re in the building they’ll be OK.”

Nathan Scott, a 2010 FSU graduate, was working the front desk when May shot him in the leg. Scott ran into the library to warn the students inside, many of whom eventually ran to upper floors. The Tallahassee police department broadcast an announcement of the shooting throughout the library, with instructions for students to stay where they were and call 911 only in the event that they saw someone wounded or armed. Several staffers later expressed appreciation for the active shooter training sessions that the library had held in the past year, Zimmerman told LJ.

Scott was released from the hospital the following weekend, and was eager to return to work at Strozier. Student Elijah Valdez, 18, was grazed by a bullet and released after being treated by first responders outside the library. Farhan “Ronny” Ahmed, 21, was shot three times, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down; as of this writing he has been transferred to a specialized facility in Atlanta for further treatment.

Everyone involved conducted themselves admirably, Zimmerman declared. If there was anything she wished had been different, it was the communication gap directly after the incident. “In the aftermath…nobody really knew what was going on,” she told LJ. “It’s inevitable. Plus, you’re in such a state of shock that you don’t really think as straight as you might otherwise.” Even with the campus police chief, Tallahassee police chief, vice president for student affairs, provost, and other campus officials all on site, information was hard to come by at first. Still, the coordination between law enforcement, library staff, and students in such an unprecedented emergency situation was impressive.

MOVING FORWARD

In the week following the shooting, the FSU community took a number of steps to move beyond the incident.

Staff posted a huge piece of paper and supplied markers at the library’s entrance when it reopened Friday morning so students could express their thoughts as they walked in, and, Zimmerman said, “they were all along the lines of ‘thank you guys, you guys were wonderful.’” There have been a number of vigils, services, and town hall meetings, and campus-wide counseling facilities have been available 24 hours a day; some students were given permission to leave early for Thanksgiving break to be with their families and friends. Discussions during the aftermath have been about improving security, but also helping staff and students move past the fear and trauma in the wake of such an event. Zimmerman is aware that such events can serve as triggers, or that responses can be delayed for weeks or months, and FSU plans to support those who need help at any time.

In addition, uniformed, armed campus police will be posted in the library through the end of the semester.

“In my ideal world all libraries and public places should do everything they can to create a secure environment,” Zimmerman said. “I’ve gotten probably 350 emails over the last two or three days from my colleagues all over the country and beyond. Many libraries don’t have this kind of security, and…people are wondering if they need to do something a little more stringent.” Still, she added, people’s perception of Strozier is of “a very safe place, for students and everybody.”

“Security should be a priority in every library,” suggested Zimmerman. “But honestly—this happens in movie theaters, it happens in supermarkets, it can happen anywhere.” And as with any other safeguard, a security system requires training and drills for everyone who will use it.

In that respect, the system in place at Strozier Library—with the help of quick responses from students, staff, and law enforcement—served its purpose well. Zimmerman put it plainly: “I am so proud of my people.”

Lisa Peet About Lisa Peet

Lisa Peet is Associate Editor, News for Library Journal.

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Comments

  1. Not to discount the efforts to provide better security for facilities that seem to be targets for indiscriminate gunman, but I struggle with the question of “how do you anticipate crazy?”. What about theaters, grocery stores, restaurants, coffee shops, book stores, etc. The list could be endless. I don’t have the answer, but creating a police state can’t be the solution. The cure would be worse than the illness. I can suggest; better screening for gun licenses, much harsher penalties for those who use or allow their (even via their negligence) guns to be use in crimes. It is going to take some creative strategies to address this issue, but making us all victims is not the answer.

  2. “Strozier employs a full-time security staff, as well as student workers manning the front desk.”

    Dear Lisa Peet and the online editors of Library Journal,

    Unless all student workers at the front desk are male, the appropriate phrase is “staffing the front desk.”

  3. I applaud the leadership of FSU’s Strozier Library for having prepared the staff for such an event. Sadly, my library, where I have worked for over 17 years, has no such plan in place. In addition to having great patrons, we have had our share of not so great patrons. We had a 15 year old rape a 12 year old in the restroom. We had a patron start a fire in the children’s section. The circulation staff regularly have to break up fist fights between teenagers. When I asked the management if we have an active shooter alert protocol for our library staff, silence was all I heard. It has been nearly two years since I asked the question and the matter has never been addressed. I wonder if anyone in our management has read this article.