Saskatoon Public Library locations will be safer after Monday reopening, CEO says

The Saskatoon Public Library’s CEO says police, firefighters and community support officers will pay extra attention to two branches that shifted to contactless service. File / Global News

Changes are coming to two library branches that will make them safer upon reopening Monday, according to the head of the Saskatoon Public Library (SPL).

The Frances Morrison Central and Dr. Freda Ahenakew libraries shifted to contactless service on Feb. 16, after an increase in verbal threats and harassment toward staff. Mental health and addictions issues also resulted in deteriorating safety among visitors to the library branches.

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“What we were seeing in the first two weeks of February was patron-on-patron violence that was beyond what we had seen before,” said SPL CEO Carol Cooley.

Library officials decided to put in-library operations on pause to make “some operational changes” at the facilities.

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Though the COVID-19 pandemic has caused mental health and addictions issues to become more pronounced, Cooley said Monday’s reopening is unrelated to the province’s public health orders expiring at the end of the same day.

Talks were still underway Wednesday, but Cooley said conversations have happened with groups like the Saskatoon Fire Department, the Saskatoon Police Service and the Community Support Program.

“They’re not going to be providing security services for us,” Cooley said, though officers will have a better idea of the social issues faced by library patrons and members can “check in” occasionally.

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Fire officials will also play a role in finding people help with housing and transportation, Cooley said.

A statement on the library’s website on Friday stated incidents of violence against staff are rare, and the move to contactless service was a result of increased verbal threats and harassment toward staff.

Citing recent media reports, the library sought to clarify two instances of violence involving staff.

One occurred in a nearby parking lot in 2021, where an employee was grabbed from behind but “was not physically harmed,” according to the statement. It indicated the library made changes to security protocol and the employee chose not to file a police report.

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A previous incident occurred in 2020, according to the SPL, where a staff member was assaulted after a person refused to wear a face mask.

“The police were involved, and the location was closed temporarily following this incident. We worked closely with and provided support to the employees involved,” the statement reads.

Cooley acknowledged incoming security changes might displace regular patrons of the library branches, but she said the SPL is taking steps to address a community-wide issue.

“It will be a safer environment, and the message to the public is that we’ll be open on Feb. 28.”

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