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Toronto Public Library Board approves $2 million for security guard resources
Oct. 27, 2021
Francine Kopun

The Toronto Public Library Board has approved a request for an additional $2 million in 2022 for more security guard resources to deal with issues related to the pandemic, including visitors who become confrontational when asked to wear a mask indoors.

“The pandemic has created some new challenges, and incidents at TPL branches continue to reflect what the city as a whole is experiencing,” said Brian Daly, head of human resources at TPL.

He said the pandemic has also highlighted and exacerbated mental health issues in the city, as it has around the world.

“TPL began to reinstate services and open our doors when many other community supports were still closed or operating at maximum capacity due to the pandemic’s impact, so we have been responding to those issues as well.”

The library board agreed in February to increase spending on TPL’s security guard contract by $1 million in 2021, related to issues arising from the pandemic, like enforcing COVID-19 regulations and bylaws.

The additional $2 million in spending in 2022 will drive total spending on security guard services at the library to $4,947,440 in 2022, compared to $1,524,310 in 2013, an increase of 225 per cent.

The increased spending will be included in 2022 budget submissions to city council.

Spending on security guard services for the city’s 100 branches has been increasing more generally since 2013, as it grapples with the ongoing opioid crisis and worsening social issues, including homelessness.

According to a TPL report presented to the board on Monday night, there were 17.4 million visits to the city’s libraries in 2019, the last full year they were open, giving rise to 3,419 incident reports. Disruptive behaviour was the largest category, with 248 violent incidents reported.

The number of violent incidents rose from 103 in 2013 to 248 in 2019.

“TPL’s services are delivered within an increasingly complex and diverse urban setting, with public spaces open to all,” according to the report.

TPL isn’t relying uniquely on security guards to deal with the issues arising at its branches, Daly said.

TPL has had a social worker on staff since 2018, focused on providing support to better serve vulnerable populations who use library services.

All staff have been trained in recognizing overdoses and responding and some are trained in administering naloxone. They have also been trained in new techniques in dispute and conflict resolution.

TPL also introduced headsets for staff and security guards so they can request assistance or alert each other when incidents or issues arise.

Security guards, the report notes, help to prevent and diffuse situations, and in many instances, develop a rapport with visitors that helps manage and de-escalate situations when they arise.

“Having dedicated security guard staff to perform these functions allows library staff to better serve the library’s customers,” according to the report.

TPL has used security guard services since the 1970s.

Prior to the pandemic, 32 branches had regular security guards in place and an additional four mobile guards provided support as necessary.

Current projections anticipate security coverage and additional spending to continue through 2022 due to capacity limits and masking requirements as hours of operation increase.

Library board member, and city councillor, Gord Perks asked for the TPL report, to find out what else it was doing, besides increasing spending on security guards, to address the issues.

Perks said that the provincial government is not providing enough income supports to help people afford decent housing, or the mental health supports some people need, and as a result, libraries have been left picking up some of the slack.

However, he said, libraries must remain open to everyone in the city, from all walks of life.

“I think that’s just a core value and should be a core value of the library.”