Opioid Crisis Response: A British Columbia Regional Library

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In April 2016 seemingly overnight, there was a marked change in some of our patrons’ behavior. We went from working on programming, development and improving our services, to encountering constant threats, abuse and confronting an average of 1.85 drug related incidents per week inside the library. We were unprepared for this and alarmed to discover that our library branch is not immune from the global opioid epidemic.

2013-2016 Reported Incidents
Year Incidents [IN]† High Risk [HR]‡ Drug Related [DR]
2013 41 IN 15 HR 4 DR
2014 87 IN 20 HR 0 DR
2015 61 IN 18 HR 3 DR
2016 149 IN 93 HR 31 DR
2017Δ 174 IN 91 HR 52 DR

From June of 2016 to December 2016, when the drug related incidents began to increase rapidly, we had been reaching out to the RCMP and other community groups about what we could do to mitigate our risk. When we did this, we were told many times that this was not our job and to just call someone to deal with it. We told them we were happy to hear this and asked whose job it is? Library leadership, patrons and even some of our peers agreed that this is not our job. In our community, there isn’t any one person or group who is responsible for the opioid crisis response, it is not anyone’s “job.” Each support team adeptly handles their area of responsibility, crime, housing, medical treatment etc., but I have found that this problem requires a unified community response. My view has always been that libraries are community leaders, and doing our part to mitigate and manage this crisis has become part our work here as well. These incidents need to be mitigated at the moment much of the time and at times can not wait for first responders in a community with resources already stretched very thin.

Despite our polite, understanding but persistent requests for resources the best we could get was 24 hours of security for 6 weeks. During that period all incidents declined, we believed this to be causal. We tried to invite the police to walk through our branch at consistent intervals but again they were too busy to do this regularly and they responded when we called them, but the staff were slow to call the police. With only 24 hours of security we wanted to be sure that we deployed them as effectively as possible. The staff believed that in the evening would be the most critical time for us to deploy security. We didn't want to just go with what we thought was best. With a simple spreadsheet that was then formatted as a table to easily sort the data and then we tracked the incidents by hour. We created a guideline of how to categorize the incidents as high risk&Dagger and drug related and then used excel charts to visualize the data. Visualizing this data made it easy to see what days and times had the highest number of incidents. We found that our high risk and drug related incidents happened primarily in the morning and early afternoon.


Then in January 2017 we had 2 people overdose in our washrooms in 5 days. Due to quick and courageous responses by the staff and paramedics, both people survived.

In our community, there isn’t any one person or group who is responsible for the opioid crisis response, it is not anyone’s “job.” Each support team adeptly handles their area of responsibility, crime, housing, medical treatment etc., but I have found that this problem requires a unified community response. My view has always been that libraries are community leaders, and doing our part to mitigate and manage this crisis has become part our work here as well. We have implemented the following interventions:

Interventions
• Staff threat and de-escalation training • New security response procedures
• New washroom signage(PDF) with clear code of conduct expectations • New security manuals
• Receive outreach from the RCMP, Community Police, Legal Aid, Street Nurses and homeless shelter • Consistent use of Employee Assistance Program for our mental health well-being
• Developed a simple incident tracking and digital image storage system • Developing behavioural contracts for patrons returning after a ban
• Use of longer bans • Working with patron service providers
• Staff debriefs after each incident • Washroom well-being checks
• Created community action groups • Had a CPTED Audit (Crime Protection Through Environmental design)
• Added a part time security presence • Made security specific library layout changes

We have been especially fortunate to work with many very capable well-intentioned individuals and groups in our community. Something that has been particularly important for me is learning to track success a different way. It is not about the number of incidents that occur, those we have no control of and for us they only seem to go up, but rather to keep the number of injuries to staff extremely low. I am pleased to report that we have had zero staff injuries due to this crisis!

Unfortunately, all we have is a correlation effect and no verification that the interventions caused or influenced the drop in high risk incidents, but if nothing else our work with the community has, I believe, helped make our library safer and more pleasant for everyone.

Notes

† Anything that occurs in the library that is out of the ordinary, this is total number of reported incidents per year.
‡ Drug sales or use, assault, theft, severe verbal abuse/threat, vandalism, inappropriate sexual behaviour, Drug Related incidents are counted in this number as well.
Δ Through July 15, 2017