No Place for the Faint-Hearted: Facing the Reality of Public Library Work

It is common that public library staff are being asked to undertake activities or are being participants in incidents at work that have the potential to distress and upset them. Library staff are often being required to manage or witness violent or aggressive behaviours, serious mental illness-related behaviours, and the outcomes of a lack of services for people experiencing homelessness as part of their work life.
The nature of modern public library work now includes these elements in many of our libraries across our cities and towns. As a profession we are not yet facing this reality of the nature of public library work in our formal and informal training pathways, the care of our existing staff or in the recruitment of our future workforce. Although many libraries are hiring security guards and are providing their staff with opportunities for relevant personal development and access to Employee Assistance Programs, these measures are not yet meeting the needs of library staff.
Based on data from a broader study of homelessness and public libraries, this presentation will discuss unexpected findings relating to library staff safety in the workplace. It will provide a challenge to our industry to do better in facing the reality of what is being asked of our workers and will provide some solutions for how we can start to care for each other more effectively. Please note this presentation comes with a TRIGGER WARNING as anonymised examples of distressing experiences shared with the presenter will be described.

Dr Jane Garner

Senior Lecturer, Charles Sturt University

Author Bio

Dr Jane Garner is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Information and Communication Studies at Charles Sturt University. She is also an Australian Research Council Fellow undertaking a three-year DECRA research project that focusses on the relationship between public libraries, people experiencing homelessness and the services that support them. Another element of Dr Garner’s research involves investigations into the role of books, libraries and reading in the lives of people detained in correctional facilities. She has recently undertaken research-related activities with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in the Philippines and with UNESCO in Germany regarding libraries in prisons. Dr Garner also undertakes research into the role of social workers in public libraries and is part of the Charles Sturt University Social Work in the Library Project team.