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.



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

On February 18, 2020, two 13-year-old boys allegedly lit a fire in the Children's Section on the top floor of the two-story Porterville, CA library. They fled, as did the other patrons and staff in the building, who all got out safely. Unfortunately, two Porterville Firefighters, Patrick Jones, 25, and Raymond Figueroa, 35, died while fighting the blaze. The two teenagers, who were released in August 2020 to home confinement, face charges of conspiracy, murder, and arson that could put them in the California Youth Authority until they are 25. The library housed 77,000 books and was built in 1953; it did not have fire sprinklers.

According to a story in the February 19, 2020 edition of The Sacramento Bee: "For two decades, the city of Porterville discussed the need to upgrade its 67-year-old library where two firefighters were killed Tuesday. The structure was so old it lacked the fire sprinklers required in modern buildings and had numerous other structural problems, according to city officials.

"A library assessment commissioned by the Porterville City Council in 2008 said that the building whose original floor was built in 1953 'is in relatively good shape,' but several repairs including a fire-reporting system 'must be addressed.' The report recommended a smoke alarm system directly linked to the fire department central station."

"With the renovation, a fire-safety upgrade is required," the report says. "A smoke alarm system with central station reporting is a good inexpensive solution. Its estimated cost is $25,000.'"

"It's not clear if any of the fire alarm upgrades were made following the 2008 report."

"The library is so close to a fire station that the risks seemed minimal, said Edith La Vonne, the chairwoman of the Porterville Library and Literacy Commission. The back wall of the library butts up against Fire Station 1," La Vonne said. "They're just around the corner, so for me the proximity to the fire department ... I happen to know they're extremely efficient. They're good. They're well trained and so a fire never occurred to me."

"The 2008 report noted other problems with the library building. Water had damaged the roof in the northeastern corner and the building's foundation was sinking in places due to being built on poor soil. "Electrical service is maxed out and requires an upgrade," the report said. "The suspended ceiling is not braced for earthquakes."

"The original 3,824-square-foot building constructed in 1953 was expanded in 1974 to two stories, adding 6,100 square feet to the library, according to the 2008 report.”


This tragic story should remind all library leaders and all library employees about our collective need to pay careful attention to a fire as a rare but catastrophic event (like the rare possibility of an active shooter in the library). We need to have written and practiced plans in place and still prepare for an unlikely occurrence. The likelihood of a library fire can be estimated on many factors: staff vigilance about not allowing smoking or watching for signs of arson (especially possible from mentally ill patrons or children); the age of your facility (newly-constructed buildings are much less likely to catch fire or burn); the installation or absence of water sprinklers, smoke, and heat sensors; a building-wide fire alarm system with audible alarms and a public address system to be used to notify all staff and patrons to evacuate; and the proximity of the fire department and its number of staff. 

This last issue is the most surprising to people. According to a 2014 report from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), about 70 percent of America's firefighters are volunteers, and 85 percent of the nation's fire departments are all or mostly volunteer. The smallest communities — those with fewer than 10,000 residents — are almost always served by volunteer departments (https://bit.ly/38cfWbL). The majority of fire stations in the US are staffed by a full-time, paid Fire Chief, one to three Assistant or Battalion Chiefs, and the rest is made up of volunteer firefighters. For rural libraries, there may be a substantial distance and delayed response time by an all-volunteer Fire Department.

As library leaders consider the vexing issue of a building fire, they should discuss and verify:

  • The marked location of evacuation routes, for patrons in the front and employees in the rear.
  • Moving children, elderly, or disabled patrons out of the building, quickly and safely.
  • Having more than one fire drill per year (follow our K-12 schools, who do several).
  • Being vigilant of any hazardous materials (hazmat) in storage areas, janitorial closets, kitchens or break rooms.  
  • Keeping all gas, electrical, utility, and IT Server rooms secured.
  • Being aware of any potential chemicals or flammables on site.
  • Constant awareness of children or teenagers playing with lighters or matches.
  • Reporting any arson threats or attempted arson by disturbed or disgruntled patrons to the police. 
  • Vigilance by staff to enforce "No smoking" by patrons (cigarettes, pipes, cigars, and vape pens).

For professional advice on this issue, I consulted with my colleague, Robert May, JD. Bob is not only an attorney but also a former Fire Chief for two southern California agencies. He teaches fire leadership and emergency operations management for various fire administrations in the state of California. He is the CEO of Mainstream Unlimited, a firm that specializes in risk management consulting, onsite training, webinars, and site security assessments. He can be reached at www.MainstreamUnlimited.com.   

Here are Chief May's thoughts on keeping libraries safe from fires:

"Libraries can pose a challenge when it comes to fire and life safety. The buildings are potentially high-occupancy facilities with hidden dangers. Employees and visitor safety are critical. Besides the life safety exposures, the building can house irreplaceable books, priceless valuables, and historical artifacts. It's not uncommon when a library is involved in a fire for the damage to be significant. These buildings pose a high risk to the entity that owns and operates the building, which could be a city or county, a landlord, or a property manager. All libraries must be outfitted to prevent or reduce damage and allow the safe evacuation of employees and patrons."

"The first step is to determine the high-risk areas of the building. This would include areas where: 

  • Exhibits featuring highly combustible materials like paper, wood, or textiles.
  • Exhibits featuring preserved specimens housed in alcohol or other flammable liquids.
  • Tightly-packed rooms with exhibits or bookshelves.
  • Rooms housing materials easily damaged by smoke, soot, or water.

An important factor in preventing a fire loss is through the maintenance of a good fire prevention program. The fire protection program and accompanying policies need to be in writing and updated periodically. 

Management and staff responsibilities need to be defined, and fire prevention procedures need to be established. This program must be based on a high standard of janitorial services, housekeeping, orderliness, maintenance of equipment, and continuous staff training and awareness in both recognizing and eliminating fire hazards (ignition and fuel sources).

To help in the reduction of these exposures a fire protection plan is needed. A fire protection plan should have these goals in mind:

  • Preserve documents, data, artifacts, exhibits, and equipment.
  • Reduce smoke and soot contamination.
  • Reduce water damage caused by onsite protection or fire hoses.
  • Have a safety plan for the evacuation of staff and visitors.

"More important than the preservation of the archive and library and its collections is, of course, the safeguarding the lives of its staff and patrons. Life safety must always come first. Library management must ensure that employees know what to do in the event of a fire."

  • Make sure they know what the building fire alarm sounds like (bells, horns, chimes, speakers with recorded instructions). Fire drills should be conducted at least twice a year.
  • Ensure employees can hear the alarm. Extend alarms to locations where the alarm cannot be heard and make provisions in the interim to alert employees in those areas.
  • Ensure all employees know their primary and secondary exit routes. Every archive and library should have an evacuation plan and provide it to all employees. Walk through exit routes to make sure they are clear and available for use. Conditions may change daily due to construction, renovations, repairs, etc.
  • Egress paths are not obstructed by storage, etc.
  • Exit doors are accessible, unlocked, and not blocked from the other side.
  • Exit signs are operating and visible.
  • Emergency lights are functional and adequate to illuminate the exit paths in case of a power failure.
  • Staff knows where the meeting point is outside the building so they can be accounted for.
  • An introduction to fire prevention is given to all new employees.

Chief May concludes by saying, "No library institution is immune from fire. Library leaders need to ensure they develop plans for dealing with the fire threat. If they do not do it, it places the building and its occupants, visitors, and collections at risk."

Your best ally in the process of keeping your library safe is your local Fire Department. Call the Fire Chief and/or the Fire Marshal to set up a meeting and ask for a full inspection of your building. Follow the recommendations – equipment, policies, training, drills – of your fire professionals. 

Votes: 0
E-mail me when people leave their comments –

You need to be a member of Library 2.0 to add comments!

Join Library 2.0


  • This is excellent advice for all libraries. I have seen many impeded or completely blocked exit pathways and electrical rooms filled with junk because there isn't enough storage space. Have your Fire Marshall come out and do a walk-through. He or she will be glad to do it!

    Lauren Stara, Library Building Specialist, Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners

This reply was deleted.

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.

Safe Library Short Tips (+ Dog)

Go to all videos.

Buy the Book





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.