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The Public Library: An Ever-Evolving Community Space

Dec 9, 2022

People Incorporated’s Training Institute and Saint Paul Public Library (SPPL) have been partnering for over a year to conduct situational awareness and resiliency skills training with SPPL staff following some safety incidents that occurred earlier in the summer and fall.

This effort is part of SPPL’s larger response to the ever-evolving purpose of public libraries, a space that has always changed in relation to community needs.

“The public library’s role in our community has expanded from books and computers into a community resource hub,” said Russ Turner, Director of the Training Institute. “Saint Paul residents experiencing homelessness, substance use disorders, or domestic violence are especially hurting right now. A core value of public libraries is that everyone is welcome and in the face of intensifying hardship, staff are more frequently serving folks who need different kinds of resources like referrals to community partners who can help meet basic needs. The library is filling gaps that exist in the social support system.”

In response to expanding community needs, Saint Paul Public Library has a social worker available to library users and is working with the People Incorporated Training Institute to train staff to navigate instances of mental illness, dysregulation, and crises in public library spaces with sensitivity and empathy. The goal of these trainings – focused on topics such as de-escalation and trauma-informed supervision – is to ensure that library staff have the knowledge and support they need to navigate difficult conversations with library users, set personal boundaries, and direct individuals in need to the appropriate resources and care. This collaboration with the Training Institute is a part of SPPL’s and the City of Saint Paul’s larger community-first public safety approach.

“Libraries are a community space, so whatever happens in our community happens in our libraries,” said Katrina Hartz Taylor, Public Services Manager at SPPL. “It’s a trusted space, often seen as a safe space, where there are people who care and want to help. People sometimes don’t know how to ask for what their needs are.”

“I’m hoping to give the staff the tools they need to feel empowered,” said Taylor. “We want to help them come into situations that may feel unfamiliar or ambiguous with a mindset that is caring and compassionate, and yet holds boundaries and the mission of the library.”

To learn more about the Training Institute’s continued work and courses offered, visit their website at https://www.traininginstitute.org/w/.