Last year, the Canadian Urban Libraries Council, CULC, formed an ad hoc Safety and Security Working Group in response to the “unprecedented increase in the frequency and intensity of security and safety incidents” in public libraries.  Recently, the group published a “Safety and Security Toolkit,” designed to share best practices “to manage safety and security,” or what CUPE calls incidents of workplace violence and harassment.

The toolkit is a collection of existing policies, procedures, practices, and templates, drawn from CULC member libraries.  These resources may benefit library systems that are only beginning to implement measures to address workplace violence and harassment, or buttress those in systems that are looking for additional steps to take.

However, CUPE is disappointed that working group members didn’t look for new actions libraries could undertake since existing measures haven’t been able to stem the rate and severity of incidents involving violence and harassment.

CUPE offered to participate in consultations so the working group could incorporate frontline library workers’ input and perspectives into the resources it would eventually produce.  However, our offer was rebuffed by CULC, and it shows. 

The working group employed a lip service approach to incorporating the voices of frontline workers through the inclusion of some documents in the toolkit which were developed by employers with input from union members, and citing statistics drawn from CUPE Saskatchewan’s 2023 library workplace violence and harassment survey report.  It’s evident the working group didn’t think that engaging in legitimate two-way conversations with frontline workers about this issue was warranted.  Instead, they turned to private consulting and PR firms to help them develop their products.

CULC concludes the toolkit with a blueprint on how it will raise public awareness about the impact of this issue on library services and what its views are when it comes to what needs to be done.  It plans to partner with external organizations to call on governments for better funding for mental health and addictions services.  This collaboration is crucial since some solutions to the problem of workplace violence and harassment fall outside the scope of libraries and library work.  We hope CULC follows through on its commitment to take on some of the effort to lobby for the resources needed to support them.

“It is unfortunate that frontline library workers were not given an opportunity to provide input into the development of the CULC/CBUC Safety and Security Toolkit. While the toolkit purportedly offers proven strategies to help public libraries more effectively manage and respond to safety and security incidents, the top-down approach effectively excludes frontline library workers from contributing to the development of this toolkit by discounting their experiences in dealing with those types of incidents,” said John Puusa, Toronto library worker and member of CUPE 4948. “Public library employers regularly interact with their employees within the framework of Joint Health and Safety Committees. Consequently, the question needs to be asked: Why would public library administrators bypass legitimate input from those workers experienced in seeing things from a health and safety lens or perspective?”

Moving forward, we hope CULC will clarify that solutions are needed not just to protect library services, but to prevent the harms that result from workplace violence and harassment on workers themselves.  It’s imperative that workers with lived experience with violence and harassment are brought into ongoing engagements to inform future recommendations.