PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Safety and security have been a growing concern among workers at Portland Libraries as violent confrontations have been occurring, often with people struggling with mental illness taking refuge near local libraries.
One of the more recent encounters took place at Midland Library in February, when two workers were attacked while leaving the facility.
In response to recent attacks, employees are pressing library leadership for more trained security staff, rather than relying on library workers.
The union, which represents 450 library workers, says staff should not have to act as security guards, especially when confronting people in a mental health crisis or with drug use issues.
The Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office used to staff libraries with uniformed, but unarmed officers. However, that changed a few years ago, and the library began using its own security in some branches, calling 911 if it needed more help.
The county also has two trained social workers on staff, mainly working at Central Library. The union wants that program expanded, as well as more overall staff.
The union is in negotiations with the county and library managers say they are working to hire a security director.
In a statement to KOIN 6 News, Multnomah County Library said “the library and County are actively working together on safety and security issues. We’ve received exceptional support from Chair Kafoury and the rest of the Board in this effort. Libraries reopened last June and have grappled with COVID surges and unprecedented levels of community violence and aggression. We’re not alone in this and we’re certainly not alone in not having all of the answers right now.”
Multnomah County Library added “We are having conversations every day with Chair Kafoury and her office around solutions. The library is committed to adding resources and people in the right ways to make libraries safe spaces for everyone. We will work with commissioners, community members, partners and other library systems experiencing the same issues to seek solutions. We know this will take time, but this is urgent for everyone.”