Following aggravated battery at main location, EPL vows to put resources into social work


Illustration by Ziye Wang

Evanston Public Library is emphasizing social services following a January incident involving a gun in the library.

Caryl Shepard, Reporter

Content warning: This story contains mentions of guns.

The Evanston Public Library is placing an emphasis on recruiting social workers to the library system following an altercation at the main location of EPL in January that resulted in the Evanston Police Department taking one individual into custody.

During the January incident, a library security monitor, who was an off-duty police officer, drew a firearm on an individual, though no shots were fired.

That violated EPL policy, which forbids firearms on the premises unless the person with the weapon is an on-duty police officer or an active member of animal control. 

“Guns are not permitted in the library. It is not our policy to allow our security staff or any member of our staff (to) carry weapons,” EPL marketing and communications manager Jenette Sturges said. “Libraries are gun-free zones.”

Sturges said the rule applies even in the cases of off-duty police officers acting as security monitors for the library. EPL’s human resources department is investigating the event, she said.

However, EPD Cmdr. Ryan Glew said the library security monitor, who is in charge of ensuring patrons behave orderly, acted in accordance with the law. 

The actions of the individual were probable cause for arrest for battery to a police officer,” Glew says,  “As far as (the security monitor) presenting a firearm, that would be considered lawful, not considering any policies of the library.”

Sturges said social workers should be at the heart of the library’s response team to crisis events.

EPL’s social worker position, however, has been vacant since the end of December. The library is still looking to fill the position and expand the services it provides, Sturges said.

“We’re exploring lots of different avenues, whether (that’s) going to different partners in the community, or whether that’s hiring a social worker as a permanent part of our staff,”  Sturges said. “That’s our number one priority.”

Evanston is not alone in the police in libraries debate, as some librarians nationwide said police presence in these facilities makes patrons feel unsafe. 

Library Freedom Project director Alison Macrina wrote in “American Libraries” that police presence undermines libraries’ goal to provide a safe experience for all patrons, especially patrons from marginalized groups. 

“There’s no possible way to have intellectual freedom if police are in the building,” Macrina told “American Libraries.” “If you are a person who is targeted by police, and you’re in a library when the police come in, you’re going to change your behavior.”

Jarrett Dapier, a former EPL librarian specializing in work with young adults, underscored the importance of maintaining safety in the library for patrons.

He said de-escalation tactics without police involvement should be the first response to incidents like the one in January. 

“Hiring current or ex-police officers as your safety staff is a bad idea,” Dapier said. “We need to transition in libraries from a model of security to one of safety.” 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @carylshepard_

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