Some Saskatoon pubilc libraries change hours in response to assault on workers

Police say an employee was assaulted at the Carlyle King Library located on Laurier Drive in Saskatoon on Monday night.  (Submitted by Carlyle King Library - image credit)
Police say an employee was assaulted at the Carlyle King Library located on Laurier Drive in Saskatoon on Monday night. (Submitted by Carlyle King Library - image credit)

Saskatoon Public Library has announced changes to the hours at some locations after police say two teenage girls assaulted an employee Monday at the Carlyle King Library on Laurier Drive in Saskatoon.

The Frances Morrison Central Library, Dr. Freda Ahenakew Library, Mayfair Library and Carlyle King Library branches will now be open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. CST on Monday to Saturday, with Sunday hours staying the same as before, 1 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. CST.

"We cannot fill the gaps caused by our community's lack of critical social and health infrastructure," stated a release from Saskatoon Public Library on the changing hours.

"We can't be a place to sleep, to store large amounts of personal belongings or to use drugs and alcohol. We can't be the primary access to washrooms or climate-controlled environments during evening hours."

Officers responded to the library just before 9 p.m. and found that the teens had fled the scene, police say. Officers located the suspects at a bus mall in the 300 block of Confederation Drive.

Two girls aged 14 and 16 were charged with assault. Police say they believe the girls were intoxicated when they did the assault.

Kent Peterson, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Saskatchewan, which represents library employees, said he was familiar with the incident.

"A couple of patrons attacked and punched one of our members who works in the library and then when the security guard intervened, he also got physically assaulted, and the library closed the branch temporarily as a result of that violence," Peterson said.

He said attacks on library employees in Saskatchewan have been increasing in number and intensity. He mentioned another incident earlier this year where a library worker reported being sexually assaulted while working by herself.

"It is not an exaggeration for me to say that if something is not fixed meaningfully, someone is going to get killed in a Saskatchewan library as a result of workplace violence. It is routine for our library worker members to get punched, kicked and shoved, spit on, sworn at," he said.

Peterson said people are drawn to libraries by essential services like computers, phones, skills training, and help applying for jobs and schools, but a lot of visitors are living in poverty, addiction and mental health issues.

"People can't find treatment or places to go, and so they end up at the local library and [employees] are dealing with addiction issues and homelessness and those types of social ailments. That's not their job," he said.

Saskatoon library CEO responds to assault

Beth Côté, the interim CEO at Saskatoon Public Library, said a library employee and a security guard were assaulted, but that libraries in the city are generally safe.

"For us at the public library, even one incident of violence against an employee, against any of our contractors, against the public, is completely unacceptable," said Côté on CBC's Saskatoon Morning Show.

LISTEN | Côté appeared on CBC's Saskatoon Morning Friday:

Côté added that she believes the increasing number of incidents at public libraries is due to a "marked increase in the community of frustration of people who need services" that they not able to access elsewhere.

Library employees are "deeply empathetic" toward everyone who comes into their buildings, according to Côté, but she said they have to stop welcoming everyone when employees are having to deal with addictions, administering naloxone or helping people find a place to sleep.

"We can't be health care, we can't be a shelter, but we can be a public Library," she said.

Côté admitted she doesn't know what the answer is, but said it will have to involve everyone.

"These are our friends and our community members. These are our neighbours, and although this is a very big and complex problem, I believe that with all level of government and our entire community working together, this is not a problem that's too big for Saskatoon to find answers to."

Library employee survey results

CUPE released a report in March last year that surveyed 101 public library employees. Most respondents were from Saskatoon Public Library (44 per cent) and Regina Public Library (29 per cent). Seventy-eight per cent of participants said they had experienced verbal abuse, 44 per cent said they experienced sexual harassment and half of them said they had experienced workplace violence.

Peterson called for more training for workers on de-escalation and trauma-informed approaches to violent incidents.

He also said drug use is very prevalent in libraries across the country, including here in Saskatchewan.

"If libraries become chaotic, violent places, then families, people new to this country trying to access services, and just anyone, will be less likely to go there, meaning they can't access those services," he said.

Peterson also called for violent offenders to be banned from specific libraries permanently.

"We need to end understaffing in our libraries. This is one of the main issues that allows violence to take place. In the recent example that one of our members faced a sexual assault at work, it was because she was by herself," he said.