by Christine Anne George
The first time it happened, I was a 1L. The University had just instituted an emergency alert system, but our classroom was in the basement and I didn’t have cell service. My friend, who suspected he was about to be called on, slipped out of the room for a bathroom break. He came back and showed me his cell phone. There was a text message saying that there was an active shooter on campus. I didn’t believe him at first. I knew of school shootings—Virginia Tech had occurred less than a year prior—but, naively, it had never occurred to me that one would happen on my campus. Eventually, someone told the professor, but no one was sure what to do, so she kept teaching class. I remember thinking that the way the classroom was set up, stadium seating with two sets of doors on the same wall at the top—the only doors in the classroom—that there wasn’t really anywhere to hide. Once class was done, with the entire campus on lockdown and rumors that there were two shooters at large, my classmates and I went to the library to work on our memos. We eventually found out that there was only one gunman and he had been disarmed. No one was injured.
The second time it happened, I was in library school. I had debated going to class that morning, and when we got the alert, I realized that I should have leaned into the laze and skipped. Again, no one knew how many shooters there were. The library school was a few blocks from main campus, so the lockdown wasn’t as strict. A friend and I decided that we would head home, taking the back streets and avoiding main campus. This time, news broke so my phone kept ringing with people checking in. I sent a text to my family and silenced my phone, resolving that next time I would have to remember to do that first. My housemates were sitting outside, cheering as, one by one, we all made it back safe. There was one shooter and he only killed himself.
When one considers dangerous lines of work, librarianship doesn’t make the list. The library is where the books are. You don’t really expect anything worse than a shush (whether it’s from a librarian or at a librarian—I’ve had it both ways). But now active shooter trainings are a part of library life, just like fire drills. I’ve sat through trainings and watched videos (like this one and this one) on what to do when in an active shooter situation. It feels different, being a librarian versus being a student. There’s a sense of responsibility. It’s not just me, it’s the patrons too. In the training videos, I couldn’t help but notice that the focus is on offices and classrooms, not a library where one floor could contain several areas where student congregate as well as any number of nooks and crannies where people can be researching, avoiding human interaction, or trying to sneak in a phone call. It doesn’t seem possible to have a plan for all of the possible places one could be at any point of the day in the library.
No one wants to dwell on these situations, but it seems almost unavailable in this day and age. After Parkland I saw post after post of teachers reflecting on having to deal with active shooter training on social media. There have been discussions about active shooter policies in libraries (a separate discussion from the issue of concealed weapons). With the walkout demonstrations, I think it’s safe to say that we’re all aware of the issue. I’m sure there will be more trainings and more discussions. Will it be enough?