Security screening at Winnipeg Public Library

At the urging of the Twitter account @Millennium4all, I wrote a letter to Ed Cuddy and the board members of Winnipeg Public Library about their decision to install metal detectors and screening in the Millennium branch. If you feel passionately about this issue, you should write to them too. Help yourself to my words if you like. Here they are:

Dear Mr. Cuddy and the Winnipeg Public Library Board Members,

I’m writing as a concerned public library advocate regarding the installation of metal detectors and screening in the Millennium Library. Not only do I think that this move is one that sends a punitive message to the community and is of questionable efficacy to address the problem at hand, but it is entirely in opposition to the values that uphold libraries.

Winnipeg is certainly not alone in its struggles to maintain service levels for all in the face of a failing social safety net. Increasingly, public libraries are being called upon to be the living room of the community – which is in and of itself not a problem – but when issues borne of inequality, marginalization and poverty rear their ugly head, conflict arises and is on display. Staff and bystanders feel threatened and understandably, feel that action must be taken. It is my contention that the action that WPL has decided to take is the wrong one.

Aside from creating an entirely unwelcoming atmosphere, research from the school and hospital sector has demonstrated that harm can actually come from the installation of metal detectors. A review of 15 years of research into the use of screening in schools found that metal detectors are not proven to increase safety, and in some cases, can incite a decreased sense of security in the community. In the hospital sector, one study found that the perception of safety through provision of safety features (including metal detectors) does not correlate to actual safety, and can provide false sense of security. In this same study, it was found that psychiatric nurses were better equipped to deal with potentially dangerous situations than their general practitioner colleagues due to their training in de-escalation strategies and their ability to recognize mental health crises. [citations below]

All this by way of saying that there are alternatives to using the very blunt instrument of metal detectors and physical screening that are not only more effective, but could also provide the added benefit of increased trust and relationship building with the community. The principles behind community-led librarianship focus on working collaboratively with community, including socially excluded individuals or those with barriers to library services, to understand the needs of the community and in turn, to inform the direction of the library’s work and policies. What was the extent of the community consultation that took place prior to this decision? Were there other options presented that would be more palatable to all? How much has been invested in training staff in mental health first aid and de-escalation strategies? Has the WPL investigated the potential behind collaboration with the local social work community? Research has shown that these partnerships provide benefit to library workers, library users and the community; social workers in libraries provide crucial services to transient populations who may not receive services in other environments, and they provide heightened awareness and skill development for library workers [citation below]. Investments in strategies such as these are investments in building bridges with the community. Investing in metal detectors and security guards frisking community members is damaging to the library’s service ethos (open to all), and does nothing to move the dial forward in addressing systemic societal issues.

Public libraries are so important in this sphere. I urge you and the board to reconsider this policy and launch a meaningful and inclusive consultation with the community and city council in order to explore alternative solutions that embrace community, and provide training to equip staff with the skills they need to do this important work.

Respectfully,

Jane Schmidt

Citations

Blando, J. D., O’HAGAN, E. M. I. L. Y., Casteel, C., NOCERA, M. A., & PEEK‐ASA, C. O. R. I. N. N. E. (2013). Impact of hospital security programmes and workplace aggression on nurse perceptions of safety. Journal of Nursing Management, 21(3), 491-498.

Gastic, B., & Johnson, D. (2015). Disproportionality in daily metal detector student searches in US public schools. Journal of school violence, 14(3), 299-315.

Hankin, A., Hertz, M., & Simon, T. (2011). Impacts of metal detector use in schools: Insights from 15 years of research. Journal of School Health, 81(2), 100-106.

Schweizer, E. (2018). Social workers within Canadian public libraries: A multicase study (Master’s thesis, Social Work).

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