Welcome to The Safe Library: Dr. Albrecht's Library 2.0 Service, Safety, and Security Resources

Our Library 2.0 "Safe Library" training programs for library staffers and leaders cover service, security, safety, supervision, and even a little stress management. Our goal is to help to keep all library employees physically and psychologically safe, making it easier for them to serve all patrons in their facilities.

Dr. Albrecht's podcast recordings and feed are to the right, and following immediately below that is a full list of his blog posts. A full list of paid webinars is to the left.


March 7, 2024


Dr. Albrecht's blog posts are below. One of the features of his blog is "ASK DR. STEVE," where readers submit questions and he answers them. To submit a question for Dr. Steve, please email askdrsteve@library20.com.

By Dr. Steve Albrecht

The scope of the criminal gang problem in this country is hard to measure accurately. We know from FBI, Department of Justice, and state and local police statistics that there are around 33,000 known gangs, with over 1 million active members. This includes people engaged in "criminal activity, using a gang name, insignia, colors, hand signs, initiation rites, a code of conduct, and other forms of affiliation that show an organized approach to their illegal activities." Examples include street or prison gangs, most often organized by race; motorcycle gangs; white supremacy gangs; or the more well-known organized crime gangs, like the Italian Mafia seen in the movies, but also consisting of multinational gang members from hundreds of countries around the world.

When it comes to street gangs, most of their activities center around drug sales; extorting "street tax" money from other gangs and business owners; burglarizing homes or businesses; robbing people or businesses; stealing cars; stealing large amounts of retail goods; protecting their territory/turf; and using retaliatory violence against each other. We see near-daily stories about drive-by shootings that leave ordinary innocent people, or their kids, dead from getting caught in the crossfire. In other words, you do not want a street gang to occupy your library. And yet, it happens.

Many gangs use a "rings of membership" model to signify who does what, based on their status. The "OGs" or "Original Gangsters" are either the founders or related to the past founders of the gang; some can range from 30 to 50 to even 70 years old. The "Shotcallers" are often the ones who organize most of the activities and keep the peace inside the gang. They report to the OGs. The "Prospects" are prospective members of the gang, who are trying to earn their way into full membership - through selling drugs, stealing, and harming rival gang members (or the responding police). The "Wannabes" are young people who may not ever rise to the level of full membership, but hang around the gang for status, protection, and support. Some gang members allow females as full members, but this is rare, and many young women never go past "Wannabe" status, even though they engage in just as many dangerous, illegal activities as the male full members. (Females often carry guns, drugs, and money for other gang members, knowing that the police are much less likely to search them.)

Some gang members may go to the library for the simple reason that they are in middle school or high school and need to do their homework. Some gang members attend school and graduate and go on to college. This path to an education makes it easier for them to leave the gang life, which as you can imagine, is not as easy as quitting a job at a local fast-food restaurant and walking away. (The phrase, "Blood In-Blood Out," signifies their usual entry and exit from the gang.)

More likely, gang members will meet at the library because it is perceived as a safe place, or is "neutral territory," a building in between gang neighborhood jurisdictional lines. Most often, gang members see the library as an easy place they can steal from; mark, tag, paint, etch, or scratch their gang name, street nicknames, colors, or monikers into the walls, restrooms, or into materials; sell drugs; recruit new members; or intimidate other kids or adults. Their usual interactions with library staff can range from neutral to polite, to harassing and threatening. (I worked on a threat assessment case in Los Angeles, where a female library employee was dropped off for work each day at the facility by her brother, a longtime prison gang member. He was shot and wounded by a rival gang, in front of the library, two separate times. She was a good person; he had some issues. Not an easy case to manage.)

Let's acknowledge that six kids sitting together is not a gang. But as quoted here by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry website, these are the warning signs for possible gang interest, activity, recruitment, exploitation, and potential membership. Library leaders and staffers should pay attention to these warning signs and potentially problematic behaviors in children, students, and young adults they see in their facilities:

"There are many signs that parents and guardians can use to tell if a child may be involved in gang activity. These include:

  • Having unexplained money, expensive new items, or clothing.
  • Wearing clothing of all one type, style, or color, or changing appearance with special haircuts, tattoos or other body markings.
  • Using of hand signs, special slang or words with hidden messages, or having gang graffiti on walls or personal items.
  • Associating with known gang members.
  • Withdrawing from family, not obeying curfews, changing or worsening attitude with adults and peers.
  • Using or possessing drugs.
  • Carrying weapons."

Your first step, should you have fears and concerns about gang activity in your library, should be to set an in-person meeting with your local police or sheriff's department, preferably with an officer or deputy who has beat responsibility for your area; a School Resource Officer (SRO) from a nearby campus; or a detective with the Gang Unit. Explain the situation you're seeing and ask for their advice.

You may be able to get immediate (better) help and support from a local gang prevention social services agency. Most of these groups are founded and run by former hardcore gang members, who have made it their mission for the rest of their lives to promote an anti-gang message to the kids and young adults they encounter, especially those who are in the "Prospect" or "Wannabe" stage of involvement. These men can speak the language of the streets on your behalf, and talk to current or possible gang members about staying away from the library. Their guidance and wisdom for these types of interventions far exceed what the police could do. Seek them out.

Second, immediately remove any library materials that have been marked with gang signs. Have the janitorial, maintenance, Public Works, or Facilities staff paint over or repair parts of the library that have been marked. The reason is simple: tagging, left unremoved or unrepaired, just encourages more of the same. Worse yet, rival gangs will come into the library to paint, pen, or scratch over the first gang's marks. This type of escalating behavior among them often leads to retaliation violence.

(Best to do all repairs before or after business hours, so no one connected to the gang sees this activity being done. To them, painting over their gang marks is akin to painting over the Mona Lisa. The fact that they don't take kindly to it shouldn't stop you; just be discreet when making all repairs.)

Gang members are hypersensitive to being embarrassed or slighted, especially in front of their peers, their rivals, or their girlfriends. Be careful not to disrespect a male or female of any age, that you suspect may be a gang member or otherwise affiliated with a gang. They have long memories of any encounter where they felt talked down to or were treated in a dismissive or condescending manner. You can still be firm, fair, consistent, and reasonable as you apply library policy or your Code of Conduct, just keep your tone and body language neutral and professional. Choosing the right staff member or library supervisor to say what needs to be said can help a lot too.

I have heard some library directors use the bold step of having the police issue gang members a trespass warning or even getting a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against a group of known (or what are called "documented") gang members. This step is not without its real perils. Talk to the police in detail before you go in this direction, as it is an all-in, go-nuclear decision. (These people are not great rule-followers and don't like being told what to do or where to do it.)

Last, your highest-risk activity, in terms of solving the problem of gang activity in your library, would be to meet with the teenagers or adults you see or can determine are the leaders. I have seen this work in high-stress situations (one of my colleagues, who was the Security Chief for the Washington DC school system, did it safely and it led to a successful "peace treaty" between several school campuses and the gangs). The right person from the library is the key to this being a successful, useful, safe meeting. Explain your expectations, carefully, without threats, and ask for their help to get their crew to leave for good or comply with library rules.

Gangs have infiltrated every state, most cities, and even many small towns. Pay attention to what you see and get help to address it, safely and early.

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Dr. Steve Albrecht

Since 2000, Dr. Steve Albrecht has trained thousands of library employees in 28+ states, live and online, in service, safety, and security. His programs are fast, entertaining, and provide tools that can be put to use immediately in the library workspace with all types of patrons.

In 2015, the ALA published his book, Library Security: Better Communication, Safer Facilities. His new book, The Safe Library: Keeping Users, Staff, and Collections Secure, was just published by Rowman & Littlefield.

Steve holds a doctoral degree in Business Administration (D.B.A.), an M.A. in Security Management, a B.A. in English, and a B.S. in Psychology. He is board-certified in HR, security management, employee coaching, and threat assessment.

He has written 25 books on business, security, and leadership topics. He lives in Springfield, Missouri, with six dogs and two cats.

More on The Safe Library at thesafelibrary.com. Follow on X (Twitter) at @thesafelibrary and on YouTube @thesafelibrary. Dr. Albrecht's professional website is drstevealbrecht.com.

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Praise for Dr. Albrecht

"Thank you, thank you, thank you! Thank you for presenting at our staff development day. Our staff has expressed their appreciation for the information and tools you provided. We know the lessons learned will be useful in our day-to-day work. It was a pleasure to have you with us -- even if it was only virtually." - Athens, GA Library

"I wanted to thank you for the session. My husband was listening from the other room and said, 'Wow, that was great!' This was the best library workshop I've been to, and I've been to a lot! The staff was saying the same in emails." - Emily from MI

"Your suggestions of what to say to challenging patrons will really help me once we allow patrons back into the library. Thanks!" - Lori from IL

"Not only have I learned incredibly valuable skills to use in my career as a public librarian, those lessons will have a ripple effect as I teach a course on Social Crisis Management... I always give Dr. Albrecht the credit in the portions of my lecture and presentation.  And have first hand experiences using these lessons to support his approach. Thanks again for lending your expertise to ensure that as librarians we can remain safe, keep our customers safe and still deliver on our mission and the meaningful work we do each day." - Jen 

"You helped to keep my brain from turning into mush during this long time off. Thank you!" - C. from MO

"I was able to view Library Safety and Security and Interacting with the Homeless. I learned so much and appreciate the education you offered.  I became aware of changes, large and small that I can make in my life to enhance how I interact with all people. I do hope our library offers your classes in the future because I did not view all the webinars that I wanted to and I am sure my coworkers feel the same. Thank you again." - Vicki from VA

"I wanted to send you a note of thanks for your webinars... I watched 5 of them and found them to be incredibly informative. Currently I am working with my library's director to put together a situation response manual for safety and security matters that apply to our own library... What you have shared has been very useful to help set up some guidelines and decide a good direction for training within our organization. Thank you so much for sharing your insights." - Jennifer from IN

"Thank you for the great content. I appreciate it." - Carmen from MT

"[I] found [your webinars] extremely helpful and informative. Thanks again and stay safe!" - Christine from PA

"I remember when you came to our Annual Employee Training Session and presented a terrific class. I was able to view all of your webinars during this time and I learned so much. Your generosity of spirit during this pandemic is truly appreciated and your kindness will be remembered. Thanks again and Cheers." - Bernadette from CA

"We have watched a couple of [your webinars] in the past and they always provide a great approach to issues that are becoming more and more common in public libraries." - Rod from TX

"Your webinars were educational and inspiring." - Karen from GA

"I have recently watched all your webinars... (this begins to sound like a groupie saying, "I have all your records!") and I'm so grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from them. They were probably the best work at home professional development material I encountered in the two months my library has been closed. I've worked in public libraries since 1988 and everything you said makes sense in my experience. I look forward to putting what I learned from your webinars to use when we eventually reopen to the people the library exists for. Many thanks!" - Barbara from BC Canada

"I've learned a lot from your diverse offerings as I knew that I would. I listened to 4 of your webinars at this run. I also attended your talk last year at one of our branch libraries. I hope that your presentations remain in my mind and that your practical, philosophical and respectful methods of engagement can be brought forth in times of need." - Deborah from CA

"We don't always take the time to do online courses or participate in webinars because of time and money restraints. We have been lucky to have the time now to take advantage of these opportunities. Your webinars really pack a lot of info in the time allotted. Your observations and surveys conducted with staff across the country made this applicable and the reality. Many of the situations described sound like our day to day interactions with patrons. Again thank you so much for these valuable webinars. I hope we will be open soon and able to put your tips into practice." - Kathy from MD

"I’ve really enjoyed all of your webinars, especially the ones about security and challenging patrons, and I’ve gained some useful knowledge that I can utilize at my library. I hope you have a wonderful day! Thanks again!" - Deborah from OH

"You're the best of the best." - Nick from CA

"I have found your webinars especially helpful during this time of stay-at-home orders and the inability to report to work for my daily schedule. (My branch is closed indefinitely.) I have especially found "Interacting with the Homeless" and "Stress Management for Library Staff" as the most help to date. I have been doing daily meditation as a stress reliever and taking time to find happiness despite all that is taking place in this world.... having this opportunity to listen to your thought-processes is very invigorating and life-changing. Thank you from the bottom of my heart." - Danielle from MD

"[Y]ou've expanded our minds and helped us greatly with your generosity. Thank you for all that you do, I appreciate it immensely." - Valerie from TX

"Thank you very much for your work and very good webinar." - Donna from IN

"I appreciate your vast knowledge on patrons and safety situations." - Mary from IL

"I've long wanted to explore your work, and have enjoyed and learned from 4 of your webinars so far, with plans to view them all. They are excellent! I am charged with leading our staff around issues of safety and security in our rural system, and you are a clear and dynamic voice in our field. I really appreciate your experience, knowledge, and presentation style, down to talking fast to get the most information into the time of the presentation! Hopefully, I'll be able to obtain the new edition of your book soon, as I hope to keep these themes as relevant currents for the duration of my career." - Kimberlee from CA


"Thank you for your wonderful `Safety and Security in the Library' presentation. I so appreciate that you were able to join us virtually this year and share your knowledge on these topics with our library staff. I look forward to exploring some of the resources you shared with us."

"Thanks so much for recording the presentation. It was fantastic!"

"Thank you, Dr Steve, for your presentation today. It was very helpful and insightful. Your subtle humor also lightened the mood."

"I wanted to reach out and thank you for all the information that you gave in your webinar on conducting a library facility security assessment."





Watch Dr. Steve Albrecht on video and onstage, as he presents his safety and security workshop, "Dealing With Challenging Patrons" to a live library audience. 45 minutes for unlimited staff showings at a one-time $495 fee or included in any all-access pass program.