Librarians – More Like the TV Series than You Thought

black belt librarianI read one of a series of similarly-named books by Warren Graham and was surprised by how much I liked it. The Black Belt Librarian – Real-World Safety and Security is intended for professionals. It’s a short book, with a detailed table of contents and index – perfect for quick reference. I think Graham’s advice would apply to anyone who deals with the public as customers.

Indeed, Graham started in security for retail and theme parks. Midway through the book, the title is explained. As a boy, he was “passive, introverted, and emotional.” Encouraged by a grandfather, he got involved in martial arts. He says the mental discipline and self-control allowed him to become confident and effective dealing with the public. He assures librarians – who can be too introverted and passive – they can master his skills. He also notes that those who are extroverted and aggressive also need training to de-escalate situations.

What could go wrong in a library?

If you’re wondering why librarians need to be mental black-belts, read about the members of the public they deal with – what Graham calls “behavior problems… that run the gamut from the innocuous to the insane.” Restrooms are a nightmare – from patrons who strip to wash clothes and themselves to unwelcome sexual encounters. I now understand why restroom doors are usually within sight of the circulation desk and even then may be locked. My childhood hometown library makes you check out the key.

Warren spends some time convincing librarians who think being welcoming to everyone is their job that allowing disruptive behavior drives many patrons away – that indulging behavior problems denies many patrons use of a library they can’t tolerate. Some of his assessments of patrons may seem harsh at first: “All the nuts are not in the nuthouse,” and “some folks will try to tell you there is no such thing as a stupid question. Obviously, they never worked in a library.”

But he goes on to emphasize librarians must speak about behaviors and avoid terms or actions that show prejudice. Appearances can deceive – Graham once broke up a fistfight between two elderly, well-dressed gentlemen who both wanted the same business reference book.

Keep the library safe and secure

Simplicity and consistency are the best tools. Rules must be clear and concise. “Simple and brief,” he repeats. Signs that bury the rules in long, friendly paragraphs don’t work. Vague policies leave librarians uncertain and more likely to avoid dealing with problems. Training is important. He recommends that staff role-play in the library during times it is closed. Technology plays a role in security, but basics like locking staff areas and controlling keys gets the most attention.

He’s developed a system of evaluating the emotional state of your customer – calm, anxious, belligerent, and out-of-control. There are times to firmly enforce the rules and times to call police. He lists assumptions about behavior that can lead to physical danger and the need to stop every 30 minutes and look around – to be aware.

I think retailers could benefit

In my town, I see signs – obviously home-made – in businesses that say “we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.” Yeah, and I reserve the right to sue you. Why put up a sign that sounds hostile? I like Graham’s rule: disruptive patron will be asked to leave.

He goes on to explain how to enforce this. “People in the library should be using the library…reading, studying, and the like… [not just] stare at the ceiling all day.” Any public accommodation could find an analogous mission. Even if all you ever do with the public is have an occasional garage sale, you’ll find something useful in this book.

What others say

Graham’s book only has 4 reviews – for a book published in 2012, that’s not much. Clearly this is a niche market. Everyone shares my opinion: this is a short, practical, useful-seeming book. Perhaps only librarians can tell me if it works.

BTW – the day I checked Amazon, the prices for the Kindle and print editions of this book seemed weirdly high. I hope that was a temporary glitch. If not, check your library – they absolutely should have this book.

Never heard of the TV series? Check here: The Librarians It’s rather silly I’m afraid.

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About Ponderer

Ponderer also writes science fiction and science-inspired rhyming poetry. Check her out at She worked at Rocky Flats for 22 years - you may know her as Kathy London.

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