Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

The Security Solution for Your Library

Something must be slightly off in libraryland when the other AL, known mostly for perky puff pieces about public libraries, is writing about “emerging safety concerns” @ your library. The article offers practical advice because librarians in “all types of libraries [but mostly public libraries] continue to be concerned about challenging patrons.”

You can follow that advice if you like, but I have other advice for you just in case.

Vaping and marijuana

The other AL recommends telling puffing patrons that they’re violating the fire code and should quit puffing or leave. That’s because librarians are much too nice.

Solution: Since people who smoke in enclosed public spaces have already signaled that they’re completely indifferent to the air quality and comfort of others, being considerate of their air quality is unnecessary. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and where there’s fire, there should be fire extinguishers. A couple of blasts from one of those and the smokers tend to move on.

“Religious” panhandlers

The other AL recommends just asking them to move on, since “People don’t have the right to solicit money on your property, whether or not they are there under false pretenses.”

That’s assuming they’re there under false pretenses. Maybe they’re not. Before doing anything, you want to make sure you’re not in the presence of a powerful deity who might thwart your actions.


Solution: ask them for miracles in exchange for donations. “If your god is so powerful, get him to put $20 in my pocket, which I will then give to you.” If their god does put $20 in your pocket, give it to them, because you’re now in the presence of a remarkable deity. And then run, because you never know what might happen next. If instead they start making excuses, just spray them with a fire extinguisher until they move on.

Religious-centered confrontations

Interesting that the only “religious-centered confrontation” mentioned is with a Muslim woman who entered a library, “unrolled her prayer rug, kneeled on the floor directly in front of the entrance to the children’s library room and began praying.” This just proves that Muslims can be as annoying as people from any other religion, and of course they can be asked to move, just like Hari Krishna and Christians.

Solution: blocking the entrance to an exit is a fire hazard. Where there are fire hazards, there could be fire, and where there’s fire there should be fire extinguishers. This stuff writes itself.

Heroin overdoses and Narcan training

I’ve already written quite a bit about this topic, but haven’t discussed any solutions other than the Narcan some libraries use. According to the other AL, “If your library considers this approach, it would be wise to train staffers to identify signs of opiate narcosis—pin-dot pupils, hooded eyelids, sniffing, scratching, seemingly asleep on their feet—and have them ready to call paramedics.”

The problem with that advice is that except for the “pin-dot pupils,” it would be difficult to tell the difference between opiate narcosis and library staff who haven’t had their second cup of coffee that morning.

Solution: instead of trying to shoulder the responsibility for this stuff, call the paramedics and the police, for pete’s sake. There are professionals to deal with these issues. When you want a database searched or a printer jam cleared, call in a librarian. Otherwise, call the appropriate professionals.

Unless it’s a fire. That’s what fire extinguishers are for.

Service animal vs. emotional comfort animal

“Service animal vs. emotional comfort animal” would probably be the most boring Syfy movie ever, and that’s saying something.

This is a conundrum for the other AL: “If we ask people why they have an emotional comfort animal, will we violate their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)?”

We don’t really have to ask anything, though, because only service animals are protected by the ADA and HIPAA isn’t relevant in this situation unless we ask them what their illness is, which, by the way, you shouldn’t.

The other AL notes one of the problems, which is that “any dog owner who wants to bring their dog into the grocery store, on a plane, or into the movie theater can buy a vest online, along with a certificate that says their pooch is either a service animal or an emotional support animal.”

That’s great, especially if the certificate says it’s an emotional support animal, because they’re not protected by the ADA and the library can ask them to leave.

But what about other animals? “Library staffers have recounted tales of patrons bringing in snakes, rats, mice, ferrets, and guinea pigs and claiming that they are emotional comfort animals.”

Even better! Because, and this is important, emotional comfort animals aren’t protected by the ADA! The library can ask the patron to take the animal outside!

It could be that some sneaky patron might come in with a rat wearing a little vest with a certificate that says it’s a service animal. Questions to ask then are: 1) is the rat a dog?, and 2) is the rat a miniature horse?

If the answer to either of those questions is “no,” then the animal isn’t a service animal protected by the ADA and the library can ask the patron to take the animal outside. It really is that easy.

Solution: if the animal isn’t a service animal, the library doesn’t have to legally accommodate it under the ADA and can ask the patron to leave if there’s a problem.

If the patron refuses to leave, there’s always the fire extinguisher.




  1. The Rodent says:

    Excellent advice all around. I always love your advice and wish I had more occasions to take it…

  2. Midwest SciTech Librarian says:

    I’m going to have to keep my fire extinguisher right next to my supply of duct tape.

  3. Well, that’s one way to look at my advice.

  4. sciencereader says:

    A few more dogs in a library wouldn’t be a bad thing. When I went to France many years ago, I often saw dogs in cafés and other indoor spaces. (I don’t remember visiting any libraries, so I can’t report if there were dogs there.) It added positively to the ambiance.

    • anonymous coward says:

      Dog poop is always lovely on the library carpet. ;)

    • That’s the first thing I thought. If we started letting animals in to different places, some are bound to make nasty accidents. I don’t want that around books, or food, or anything really.

    • Kathleen says:

      We’ve had quite a few programs at my library with reading dogs, all of which have been extremely quiet and well behaved and no nasty accidents on the floor or elsewhere. That’s more than I can say for many of our human patrons, some of whom have left fecal calling cards on the floor behind them.

  5. This was the wrong article for me to read right now. On the public desk. In a quiet room.
    I tried to laugh as quietly as I could.

  6. Any tips for using a fire extinguisher to solve a ransomware attack?

  7. @Kathleen – trained dogs being brought in for specifc purposes are different. You can’t open the library to ALL dogs based on the good behaviour of a few, imo. Not without repercussions.
    At my library, we have a woman who keeps trying to sneak her “emotional support” dog in. He barks constantly, lunges at other patrons, and in general is a giant nuisance.

    Then you have patrons who are terrified of dogs or have bad allergies – as a child, I was chased down the street by a neighbour’s pitbull. Luckily, the mailman saw what was happening and helped my mom rescue me before I was bitten (which the dog almost succeeded in doing) or worse. If dogs were roaming my local library freely when I was a kid, I would have never gone. Even as an adult, large dogs make me pause. When I see the service vest, I know that (should) mean that they are well-trained, needed animals, and I take a deep breath and deal. But I don’t feel the need to take an owner’s word for how nice fluffy is – my neighbours probably didn’t think their dog would try to attack a 3 year old either.

  8. Library administrators, but especially public library administrators, need to start taking these safety concerns seriously. In my career, I have found that front-line-staff concerns are ignored, pooh-poohed, minimized, laughed at (yes), and these are serious, illegal activities happening: sexual harassment, menacing, stalking, threats. The big fear is that is will make the library look unsafe, and staff are warned to keep this all in-house. Almost like a domestic-violence scenario.

    Until clear policies that are enforced, and staff is supported when harassment happens, it will only worsen, and the fallout will adversely impact the staff. I hope more folks considering librarianship will read things like this and make a decision to pursue public librarianship based on reality, and not stereotypes about how hip being a librarian is now. Our very understaffed library’s front-line library staff face, daily, overdoses in the public restrooms. We have not yet been asked to administer Narcan, but who knows if that is coming. More and more social work activities are being pushed off on library staff. Many staff in other public library systems feel uncomfortable administering medications to patrons who may, or may not, be overdosing. Some staff are fine with it, and that is their decision. When you are the only library staff member on a service desk, and one of your duties is calling 911, waiting for paramedics, patrons are awaiting you for help on the reference desk while this is going on- it IS a tough environment, and it needs to be acknowledged at this point. “Weenie Management” seems to be the method many library administrators use to run things- you cannot say no to the most outrageous request or activity. Staff are burned out and leaving. Those who cannot leave remain are angry, and morale is low. The ADA makes it clear what is and is not a service animal. Yet, anyone can bring in a dog, let it wander around off a leash, snarl, bite. And it is the front-line staff who will have to deal with a bite or anger or allergic attack.

    Why are library staff expected to put up with this horrible behavior? I am not talking about grumpy patrons, or patrons with legitimate anger over fines, or confusion about library processes. I am talking about staff harassed by patrons who feel they can say or do anything to the staff, and they will be given a pass. And they are correct. I do not mean homeless patrons, either. Many of them are fine, polite, respectful, and follow library rules. I am talking about the patrons who get into physical fistfights, screaming, cursing, called female staff “bitch” and other sexually-demeaning terms, or gay slurs against a worker. They are not necessarily homeless, either. This is the reality library workers face, and it would be nice if we could stop gas-lighting staff who do have some legitimate safety concerns, as if they are monsters for worrying that their stalker keeps circling the desk, glaring at them, and they know they have to suck it up or be called a “troublemaker”. Librarianship is a female-dominated field, so, of course, there is an attitude, in my opinion, that you need to just shut your mouth, little lady. You are here to serve, no matter what.

    Public-library staff have done so much to help people find jobs, interface with eGovernment services, and many other issues that are pushed off on us post-2008 financial meltdown, all while seeing our budgets cut, cost-of-living raises cut, and other financial issues that impact our staffing and budgets. Yet it seems to never be enough. I fear Trump’s budget, should it be passed, will make this worse. More overdoses, jobs lost, suffering, and misery. The public library cannot absorb every social problem that develops. To me, it is the cheap way for governments to cop out of actual solutions to these systemic problems. The library should augment and support, but not necessarily becomes the de facto everything-to-every-problem destination.

  9. Cut Both Ways says:

    In some states, libraries are not allowed to ask anything about the dog or owner at all. The dog can only be ejected if it does something disruptive, like barking, biting, or pooping.

    The over-the-internet vest and certificate aren’t even factors in that scenario.

  10. Advice taken. Thanks a lot.

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