Law Library Security – How Safe Are We?

by Emily Donnellan

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Following the tragic library shooting in New Mexico, library security has been on my mind. It’s not something I think about often. My primary responsibility is to patrons, but after a tense interaction, I’m left thinking that libraries are not secure places. Between 1990 and 2014 visits to public libraries grew by 181%. Libraries are high traffic areas with limited security (if there is any security at all). Various patron groups are all vying for the same limited resources. In a university setting, law schools operate in their own building, and they are often open for extended hours, if they aren’t accessible 24/7. Law schools are unique in that they may be located in different cities from their main campus, as my library is. Our main campus is over 200 miles away. There is no campus security here. We are an island unto ourselves. So what happens when security becomes an issue? What happens in public libraries or law firm libraries? How do we ensure that our librarians and patrons are safe while still providing access? We must plan for the worst and hope for the best.

The Unruly Patron

When I think of unruly patrons, I think of one specific example. A patron had asked to use the restroom. A student worker kindly showed the patron to the restroom. Then the patron refused to leave the building, instead barricading themselves in a study room. Everyone had left, and it became a standoff between the student worker and the patron. Luckily, the patron wasn’t violent. Police were called and the patron was escorted out. It could have been so much worse. There was no plan B, no backup, it was the student vs. the patron. If the patron had been armed or violent, I worry tremendously about what would have happened. Every librarian has their unruly patron story; it is these situations that an emergency plan is designed for.

Who Do I Call and What Do I Do?

At a university library, it is expected that you call campus security before the police. Or in an emergency situation when police are called, you must also follow up with campus security. What if there is no campus security though? What if the unruly patron is the one in the situation above, only violent? This is why it is important to have an emergency plan that includes phone numbers outlining who to call in specific situations. And the list should be thorough. Libraries must also hold employee training sessions about how to handle patrons — both positive and negative. It is not enough for the law school, firm, or court to have a plan. Librarians need to formulate our own emergency responses while thinking of issues that may arise that are specific to us and the type of work we engage in.


I believe the best in patrons. Interacting with them is one of the highlights of my day. I don’t want you to walk away from this blog post feeling all doom and gloom. This post is intended to be an awareness tool. If your library does not yet have an emergency plan, one should be implemented as soon as possible. We all believe that bad things won’t happen at my library, that my patrons wouldn’t do such a thing. But we must prepare for the worst even if the worst never comes. It is my wish that all law libraries are over-prepared in case of an emergency. Share in the comments how your library is preparing and what types of emergency protocols you may have.

This entry was posted in Current Events, Issues in Law Librarianship, Patron Services and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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