Title: Black Belt Librarians: Every Librarians Real World Guide to a Safer Workplace
Author: Warren Davis Graham, Jr.
ISBN: 1599480271
Pages: 57 pages
Publisher/Date: Pure Heart Press, c2006.

*Horrible cover photo, I know, but I couldn’t find anything bigger or clearer.

“The whole idea, and my fervent wish in producing this text, is to empower you to be able to respond to a situation rather than simply react. Animals react, people should respond. However, since we humans are creatures of emotion and not logic, we often do something and then think about it rather than the opposite. I’m going to show you a way to put a plan of action in place, then you can take the first step in controlling your environment.
You are a professional librarian. You go the extra mile for the patrons and want them to get the information they are seeking. In turn, you only ask that they treat you in a civil manner and not abuse you. I think that is quite fair enough.” (xii-xiii)

Warren Graham is also known as the Black Belt Librarian, a little erroneously in my opinion because as far as I can tell he’s never possessed an MLIS or worked as a librarian. He is however a security expert, and worked as such in a library setting for over twenty years. Is quite obvious that he knows what he’s talking about, and his book and presentations come highly recommended by everyone I’ve questioned, although it seems like everyone booked a presentation by him at the same time.

Graham has a no-nonsense, straightforward writing style. Rather than fill this wonderfully brief book — it’s so short you can read it on your lunch hour — with platitudes like quite a few management books, Graham provides real-world examples of what you can do, starting tomorrow, to improve your interactions with patrons and make your library safer.

For instance, chapter three is a staggering five pages and encourages librarians to be aware of their own attitude, approach, and analysis before working with the public. Essentially, check your own attitude at the door, use the best approach towards a patron that will “de-escalate the situation instead of making it worse”, and “ask, both of yourself and your staff, what tactics worked and which ones failed. What could you have done differently to affect the outcome?” (21)

He also describes four emotional states that patrons might exhibit; anxiety, belligerence, out of control, and calm. Graham states that “I could try and impress you with fancier terms or a longer list, but there is no need, it’s not my style and I am here to help you in the real world.” That’s how his entire book is, and in this chapter specifically he gives some real world examples of phrases and actions you can use immediately.

I know at my library, we’ve really put an effort recently into implementing his ideas in chapter four about saying “No”, because we’ve had some backlash with that word from patrons. One saying in particular that really seems to defuse the situation is his suggestion to preface corrections with “I know you didn’t know, but . . .” or “I know there isn’t a (or you didn’t see the) sign, but . . .”, and people seem to be responding to that. And he’s right when he tells readers to “Be prepared to be accused of some type of prejudice.” (26) It just comes with the territory and job description.

Another chapter that is probably invaluable for libraries is chapter six, titled “Ten Day-to-Day Staples of Security”. I think these are a must have inclusion in any library policy. While some of them will probably be met with some initial grumbling (for instance: “Staff areas should be locked at all times”) it would improve safety for everyone who works there. Personally, my initial reaction was to sigh softly in frustration at the thought of unlocking and re-locking the staff doors every time I race back there for something. Plus, it would substantially increase the number of keys that need to be handed out and kept track of, but I can understand and appreciate his reasoning from a security standpoint.

The final thing that Graham provides libraries is a simple security log. I like his log idea so much better than a computer database, which requires some training and knowledge and training in order to consult and edit. Using a computerized Excel or other spreadsheet, it would make it easy to sort and search by date, name, department, or other information. It’s stressed in the book to maintain records of your security logs, and I couldn’t agree more.

Everyone I’ve talked to has encouraged me to see Warren Graham’s presentation. In lieu of this opportunity, I encourage librarians to read his book. He keeps his vignettes to a minimum, which is also refreshing because you don’t have to weed through the stories to get the facts. His no-nonsense style tells you what you need to know and how to use it, without over analysis of the psychology of patrons or their reasons or motives. Because, in reality, do we really care why they’re acting the way they are, so long as they leave the library before they cause any serious damage?