A blog from the Ontario Library Service

Helping staff handle challenging social situations

These are tough times to work in public service, including libraries. As an institution rooted in its enduring mission to be, in part, a welcoming community space for everyone who walks through the door, today’s public library comes face to face with society’s most challenging social issues. It is incumbent upon library leaders to take every measure possible to equip frontline staff with the learning and curious mindset, the confidence, the knowledge, skills, and practices that enable them to be successful in a variety of difficult situations.

Homelessness is one such challenge that requires new approaches to customer service and the job of managing the library Homelessness Training Course Imageas a safe, inclusive environment. Ryan Dowd, the Executive Director of a large homeless shelter outside of Chicago, Illinois, has written a book and developed an online training program, both entitled The Librarian’s Guide to Homelessness. In addition to libraries, Ryan regularly trains police departments, schools and other organizations on how to work compassionately with challenging homeless individuals. He also sends out a weekly email sharing a practical tip on how to handle problematic situations that arise in public spaces.

SOLS has negotiated a 25% discount for any Ontario public library that wants to provide staff with access to Ryan’s training. To take advantage of the discount, you must begin by enrolling for The Librarian’s Guide to Homelessness training in LearnHQ, at which point you will be redirected to the Librarian’s Guide to Homelessness website. A number of Ontario libraries are already using the online course, with positive results.

In the words of Shannon Bryan, Coordinator of Information and Web Services For Belleville Public Library, “one of the reasons I like him as a speaker is that he has first-hand, relevant knowledge. He’s seen it…and you believe it. I also really like the workbook. I like the idea that staff can make their own notes as they follow along and they have something tangible at the end of the training to refer to later as needed.”

A single training program will not address everyone’s learning needs, but it’s an important start. And by going through the program together, staff will have a natural opportunity to engage in conversation and learn from one another.

If your library has purchased access to the training, share your story in the comments. Has it been helpful? Would you recommend it? What strategies have been employed in your library to manage the library as a safe, inclusive, welcoming public space?