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library workshop I've been to, and I've been to a lot! The staff was saying the same in emails." - Emily from MI
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"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
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"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
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"[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
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"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
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"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
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"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."
This topic is likely considered highly controversial in the library community because it essentially reveals a dirty little secret of the culture of working in libraries. Undoubtedly, many who read the post agree with it but are hesitant to respond. Given the events of the last two years, it seems that I have nothing left to lose as far as my career working in libraries goes. So, I might as well jump in with both feet.
I worked as a page in what is considered a large urban public library in Canada from 1984 to 1990. I was a student at the time. While dealing with security issues was not one of my duties, I either witnessed or experienced practically every other situation described. One of the most heartbreaking situations was a 65-year-old page who worked at the library for nearly 40 years, knew our government publications collection inside and out and dutifully worked 3 hours per day, 5 days a week. She was not eligible to take a paid vacation even though library assistants who work permanent part-time jobs were able to do so. She had to take leave without pay if she wanted a day off and she had to find someone to work her shift. She had no benefits and no pension. She was excluded from professional and personal development opportunities. She was not eligible for staff recognition programs and she was excluded from service milestone celebrations. She was often treated as if she were a child on one hand but then heavily relied upon because of her knowledge and experience on the other. This is just one example.
Going back to the security issue, I can think of one series of events involving a page where he was unfairly exploited because of his size and gender. Back in the mid-1990s, I was working alone at the desk in the evenings in the Children's Department. The only other employee was a page. This page was an older teen but he was about 6'2" and likely somewhere in the 300 lb range. We had some terrible security issues. This included known convicted abusers of children who would stock unattended children in the library. I complained to management that these individuals were in the library and it was too much for me to do my job and watch for the offenders at the same time. I also said that their instructions to escort the offender out of the library were not practical for me because I was the only person working the desk and have no security training. I was told to show the pictures of the offenders to the page. I was told that “he’s a big enough boy to handle the task.” He was given instructions by his supervisor to escort any offenders he found out of the building. When I suggested that either he or I call the police if or when we spot an offender, the management said that they didn't want the police coming into the children's department and creating a bad image for the library. The page confided in me that he did not feel comfortable with his assigned duties and felt that he was unfairly "picked on because of my size". There was no question that he was given all sorts of heavy, dangerous and dirty work to do that other library staff members were not asked to do and that the language around the instructions he was given was shockingly biased. In the 25 years that I worked in public libraries, I witnessed many situations where pages were treated in ways that simply would not be socially accepted if they were other library employees. There is no question that pages were talked down to, bullied, excluded and exploited.
The last position I held in a public library was just a little over 10 years ago. Things had improved somewhat for pages because they unionized. However, things were still not good. In my position, I headed up circulation and interlibrary loans. So, I supervised the supervisors of many pages and part-time library assistants. Having been a page for 6 years myself and being a witness to so much poor treatment of pages, I tried my best to turn things around. For example, at staff meetings I would regularly stress the importance of the public face of the library and that pages and checkout desk staff are "the library" for many patrons. I also stressed the importance of their work to the overall success of the organization. For example, excellent acquisitions, cataloguing and reference work can be for naught if the books are poorly shelved and nobody can find them. However, I felt like a voice crying in the wilderness in terms of the big picture of the library. While I could try to convince the pages in my area that they are valued and that the supervisors and other staff in the department are expected to treat them with respect, there was a negative view of pages woven into the social fabric of the organization. I was certainly attempting to navigate upstream without a paddle.
I have no idea about the current status of pages at the public library where I worked for all of those years. However, in reading this post, I suspect that things have not changed too much. I suspect that a prevailing systemic abuse of pages remains.
Some readers may say, "I was a page and was never mistreated or taken advantage of..." I have no doubt that is true. I think that pages in some of the small libraries are treated very well and are part of the team. Also, some pages don't work very many hours or for very long. I suspect that if they worked as pages for many years, they would start to see elements of what is described in the post. Other readers may say, "We treat our pages very well! Of course, they don't get benefits or the perks of other staff. They are just part-time, temporary employees and they don't need or expect them." Hmmm... someone who works every afternoon, Monday to Friday for nearly 40 years is a temporary employee and we don't owe her any perks or benefits? I would suggest that those who feel that they don’t should sit down and have a chat with a long-term page sometime but doing that may not be productive. Thinking of my 6 years as a page, I remember being fairly beaten down at work and "put in my place" if I spoke up about things. So, your asking the question may not lead to the unvarnished truth.
I think that the treatment of pages is just one layer in some of the systemic problems present in libraries. While many people think of them as "nice quiet places to work where everyone is kind and friendly", the reality is something quite different for many library workers. There are issues with sexism, ableism, elitism and racism. Undoubtedly how these problems manifest themselves and the degree to which they are problems likely vary from region to region and from library to library within the region.
There is a new issue around paging positions that I have discovered in recent years. There have been many job postings for highly skilled, responsible and experienced librarians. In the requirements, it will also include 3 to 5 years of experience in a similar position. When I inquire about the position and provide my CV, I often ask to speak with someone who can provide more detailed information about the position. There is a recent trend for the person who answers my questions to say that they give preference to newer graduates in order to "give them a chance". It sounds like a nice thing to do for a new grad. I remember what it is like to be a new graduate and looking for work. However, these appear to me to be positions for senior and experienced librarians. For most of my career, I experienced the situation where there were early, mid and late-career positions. I was ok with this because it meant that a person had something to strive for and wouldn't plateau quickly in their career. However, I appreciate that things change and that maybe there is a new philosophy where employers want to "grow" new graduates into senior positions. There are some instances where I worked somewhere where a relatively new grad has been placed in one of these typically mid or late-career positions. What I discovered is that the required 3 to 5 years of experience was often obtained through a combination of paging, internships and volunteer work. So, it might be worth taking into consideration what is happening if and when there are a lot of people with their MLIS at your library who work as pages. There's nothing wrong with working as a page to get library experience. However, what puzzles me is that 3 years of paging experience is considered equal to 10 years of experience working as a librarian in a specialized or responsible capacity. I'm not sure if what I'm experiencing is a combination of ageism and the fear that a more experienced and knowledgeable librarian might "challenge" the supervisor too much or if there is a shift in how some libraries view paging. Is it possible that in some libraries paging has become a sort of internship for MLIS graduates? If paging is being used in this way, perhaps the practice and intentions of doing so should be made more transparent. This way new MLIS grads will understand what they need to do in order to land a good job and experienced library workers will know where they stand when searching for work.
At any rate, the issue of pages in libraries and how they are treated should be carefully considered.