Magazine article Security Management

The Next Chapter in Library Security

Magazine article Security Management

The Next Chapter in Library Security

Article excerpt


Late in 1996, the LE Phillips Memorial Library in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, suffered through a series of bomb threats that terrorized the city. Bomb-like objects were placed once in the library's parking lot and another time in the facility's water fountain. This latter incident required the assistance of army personnel from a nearby base who detonated the pipe-type bomb into sandbags after a bomb-detecting robot carried it outside the building.

Eau Claire, eighty miles east of Minneapolis-St. Paul, is a small city of approximately 60,000 people that until recently considered itself immune to the dangers associated with larger cities in the Midwest like Milwaukee and Chicago. That perception is slowly changing, says Library Director Mark Morse. In response, the library is being forced to reconsider its approach to security.

The Phillips Memorial Library's experience is, unfortunately, not unique. It is, rather, illustrative of a range of problems - including theft, vandalism, sexual assaults and even murder - now encroaching on the once venerated library domain. According to Dalia Hagan, chairman of the Library Administration and Management Association's (LAMA) security committee and library director at St. Martin's College in Lacey, Washington, "For a long time libraries were considered to be safe, and we in the profession viewed big city libraries as the ones with problems. Now all of us have security issues."

No one was injured in the Eau Claire incident but, according to Morse, "something had changed, and it was no longer business as usual for the library."

Although the three-story, 60,000-square-foot library had experienced a series of security problems in recent years, including sexual harassment, book mutilation, and theft of personal property, the library administration handled each situation separately.

The facility had no security manager and no formal way to track incidents or record crime patterns, although employees filled out incident reports.

"After the bomb threats, the library started looking at security more closely to determine patterns, and [the existing safety committee] suggested appropriate responses to changes in the community," Morse says. He adds that the biggest hurdle for the forty-two employees was psychological. "We had to get over the fact that these things were happening in Eau Claire and not some big city where you'd expect violence and crime."

The library hired security consultant Stevan Layne, CPP, to assess the site's security and conduct a library security workshop for employees. During his on-site assessment, Layne recommended that the library install a card access system as well as a CCTV surveillance system and contract with a security firm to place a part-time officer on patrol around the building and grounds. Because the library's $2.2 million operating budget currently does not include provisions for a full-time security supervisor, Layne also suggested an employee rotation scheme for supervising contractors and volunteers. Library administrators and security vendors are now collaborating on specifications and plans for implementing all of these measures.

In another case last November, thieves using power saws cut through the door of a small library at the Adams National Historic Site in Quincy, Massachusetts, and escaped with numerous priceless artifacts, including books. The site, once the home of President John Quincy Adams, is operated by the National Parks Service. Among items taken was a Mendi Bible, a gift to Adams from former African slaves; a valuable 1621 Latin version of the King James Bible; Block's Ichthyology, a rare 1775 book on the study of fish; and a 1772 Bible belonging to Adams's wife. The books were not in a locked cabinet at the time of the theft because curators wanted the building to remain as it was in the past.

As a result of the heist at the Adams National Historic Site, the National Parks Service is reviewing its security measures. …

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