Libraries advised to have ‘safe rooms’ or panic buttons to help staff deal with protests by extremists

Libraries across Ireland were told they should consider having safe rooms for staff or at the very least effective ways for employees to escape in the face of aggressive right-wing protests.

In an advisory, the Local Government Management Agency (LGMA) also suggested the use of panic buttons and lone worker devices especially for small libraries where only a single person might be working.

They were also told to put up signage that explicitly prohibited the use of audio or video recording within the building, including with mobile phones.

The LGMA urged as well that all staff be given training in “dealing with difficult scenarios” in the face of increasingly aggressive protest tactics over the presence of LGBQT+ books.

The August 2023 advisory said as soon as somebody became aware of a planned protest, this should be notified to senior management and An Garda.

It said: “In consultation with the city [or] county librarian and or senior management, decide whether to close the library in advance of the event, based on the risk to personnel or the public, considering the proximity of a garda Station, location of the library and numbers [or] vulnerability of staff at the premises.”

The guidance said small, rural, or remote libraries should simply close and larger libraries should decide on whether additional security was needed at their building to protect staff.

Library staff were given guidance on what to say, especially to point out that they did not consent to be recorded or for the sharing of their image online.

It said after that contact should be kept to a minimum and that gardaí should be alerted about any threatening language, destruction of materials, or disruption of other service users.

“If there is any perceived threat to persons, any panic button or lone worker protection devices should be deployed,” said the guidance document.

Separately, the LGMA issued advice to libraries on how to deal with a flood of requests they were receiving under Freedom of Information (FOI) laws about LGBQT+ books and gender identity.

Councils were told they should strongly consider whether the names of staff should be redacted from records if inclusion could endanger their safety or facilitate a criminal offence.

In ordinary circumstances, the names of public servants are supposed to be kept in FOI records; however, there is an exemption where a risk to their safety is anticipated.

This has become a more regular feature of FOI decisions recently and is an understandable concern given the dramatic upsurge in violent far-right activity in Ireland.