Yellowknife librarian details incident that led to increased security

Yellowknife's public library is beefing up security after a recent fight caused hundreds of dollars in damages.

A security guard started patrols mid-January, and some staff at the library say it's welcome -— and necessary.

In November, two men started fighting at the library.

"They pushed against a table which broke, and a wall that broke and caused extensive damage," said John Mutford, the library's manager.

"The table was completely written off and there were small holes put in the wall."

RCMP investigating

The altercation caused $800 in damages.

Though no charges were placed against either man, "a no-trespassing ban was served on one of the involved parties," wrote RCMP spokesperson Robert Frizzell in an email, who said police are investigating the property damage.

There were seven fights at the library in 2018, according to Mutford, but this latest one pushed the issue over the edge.

"We want it to be a place where people can come and learn, to share ideas without barriers, be them economic and in this case safety," he said.

Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC

Before, staff members would often call the city's municipal enforcement division for help for dealing with potentially dangerous situations.

In 2015, officers started doing more patrols of the library because they were getting so many calls for assistance, and while this helped tone things down at the library, Mutford says it wasn't enough.

He said the new security is going over well with staff.

"They do feel safer and they feel that they can focus more on helping patrons out … rather than always having to deal with an incident," said Mutford.

153 incidents at the library last year, 165 bans issued

Last year, there were 153 "incidents" reported at the library. Those include thefts, open alcohol, intoxication, selling drugs, and public urination.

Thirty of those cases involved abuse against staff.

"It's very concerning," Mutford said. "We want the place to be safe and healthy and welcoming for everybody, and that includes the workers."

Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC

Last year, 165 bans from the library were issued. Bans can last anywhere from one month to two years. 

"We have had staff members report that they've … heard people say, 'Lets go on upstairs to the library,' and it's people who were known to cause issues at the library who said, 'No, [I'm] not going up there, they have too much security up there now,'" said Mutford.

Along with new security, the library will be installing four extra security cameras.

The library will also start closing at 6 p.m. instead of 8:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays as of Jan. 29, because that's when many municipal enforcement officers are in court, meaning they can't respond to calls for assistance from library staff, said Mutford.

At a course next month, library staff will learn techniques to de-escalate violence. The city is even considering bringing in therapy dogs to create a calmer atmosphere.

City administrator Sheila Bassi-Kellett told council on Monday the security guards have been hired "for the foreseeable future" to reinforce positive behavior at the library.