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Librarians Face Attacks 

30 Oct, 2023 Liz Carey

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Lewiston, ME (WorkersCompensation.com) – Increasingly, as they deal with book bans and culture warriors and the homeless, librarians are becoming targets.  

Last month, police in Oklahoma City, Okla., said they were investigating three violent outbursts by guests that injured employees at the Metropolitan Library System, including an attack when a patron using a computer began to curse loudly and hit a staff member who offered to help him in the face, knocking him unconscious.  

It’s not just in Oklahoma.  

In Lewiston, Maine, a librarian was assaulted by a patron who shoved him into a bookshelf.  

Police arrested 35-year-old Timothy Meeks in August after he allegedly shoved librarian Steven Bouchard. Meeks told officers that he got upset because he thought people were staring at him. Meeks is accused of shoving Bouchard and destroying property on the library’s second floor, including tables and computers.  

Deputy City Administrator Brian O’Malley said that since the first of this year, there have been eight disturbances reported to the police.  

“The city of Lewiston takes the safety of our employees very seriously,” O’Malley told the Sun Journal. “The police responded to the situation rapidly and were able to arrest the individual. It is unfortunate that a staff member was assaulted.” 

In Idaho,  man from Oregon, tried to run over a Boise, Idaho librarian who stood up for his transgender co-worker. 

Police said the 31-year-old man, Matthew Alan Lehigh, was charged with two hate crimes, first for hitting a transgender library worker with his fist, and then attempting to run over another with his car.  Court documents from the U.S. Justice Department showed he also tried to run over two women he accused of being lesbians.  

Last year in Fort Worth, Texas, an investigative report from the Fort Worth Record found that between 2017 and 2022, librarians reported 20 incidents of assaults, robbery or altercations against or between patrons – at least four of the assaults were against librarians.  

Over a period of six month, reports by the library staff in Fort Worth’s Central Library reported a patron exposing himself to librarians, a patron hitting a staff member with a metal trash can and a patron making death threats.  

In late 2022, police in Fort Worth issued 18 criminal trespass warning to patrons for violent behavior in the central library branch. In 2021, the report found, police issued three. Other police reports describe patrons hurling drinks at staff, shouting obscenities at them and sexually harassing them. As a result, library staff have expressed concerns about safety during their exit interviews.  

“You have to be constantly on alert as to who’s in your area,” a staff member told the Record. “It makes me think, too, that we have a leadership that really isn’t taking things seriously.” 

According to the Record, library leadership has said it has done all it can to keep staff safe, including hiring a third party security firm. However, leadership says, due to the public nature of library buildings, making the buildings safe makes it hard to make the spaces completely risk-free.  

Raymond Garcia, a spokesman with the American Libraries Association said they had not noticed any increases in attacks on librarians. Member libraries have noticed attacks as they relate to current political pressures, he said.  

“Generally, we have seen threats of violence toward libraries as it relates to protecting the freedom to read,” he said in an email interview.  

In March, the ALA condemned the violence, threats of violence and other acts at American libraries caused by those opposed to the diversity and inclusion libraries represent.  

“Every day professional librarians sit down with parents to thoughtfully determine what reading material is best suited for their children’s needs,” ALA President Lessa Kanani'opua Pelayo-Lozada said. “Now, many library workers face threats to their employment, their personal safety, and in some cases, threats of prosecution for providing books to youth that they and their parents want to read. While a vocal minority stokes the flames of controversy around books, the vast majority of people across the nation are using life-changing services that public and school libraries offer.” 

Garcia said the ALA does not have any national reporting or data on incidents or attacks in public libraries. However, the ALA does recommend that libraries follow their Guidelines for the Development of Policies and Procedures.  

“Libraries are advised to rely upon existing legislation and law-enforcement mechanisms as the primary means of regulating behavior that involves public safety, criminal behavior, or other issues covered by existing federal, tribal, state, or local law,” the guidelines said.  


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    About The Author

    • Liz Carey

      Liz Carey has worked as a writer, reporter and editor for nearly 25 years. First, as an investigative reporter for Gannett and later as the Vice President of a local Chamber of Commerce, Carey has covered everything from local government to the statehouse to the aerospace industry. Her work as a reporter, as well as her work in the community, have led her to become an advocate for the working poor, as well as the small business owner.

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