Dubuque - Public Library Policy for Vulnerable and At-Risk Patrons

Throughout the 2023-2024 academic year, students from the University of Iowa’s Masters of Public Affairs program partnered with the Carnegie-Stout Public Library staff to undertake the creation of best policies and procedures to enhance social service support for individuals in need while also reducing disruptions in the library.

This project is intended to help promote an inclusive and safe environment for all library visitors and address the increasing needs of vulnerable and traditionally underserved individuals visiting the library. This project is driven by several guiding principles including accessibility, support for vulnerable populations, efficiency of staff capacity, continuing development of positive atmosphere in public places, improvement of internal policies and procedures, and the promotion of staff well-being.

Based on briefing from the staff at the Carnegie-Stout Public Library, the library has seen an increase in visits by individuals living with, or recovering from brain health challenges, substance abuse issues, domestic violence, and/or those who have limited or no access to basic human needs such as housing, and food. The staff also mentioned that some socially vulnerable individuals have presented the library staff and volunteers with unique challenges, including the disruption of other library patrons and requesting social services not traditionally provided by the library.

Often these individuals visit the library in search of shelter from the elements or because they are referred by external service agencies. Staff have reported that past occurrences at the library have resulted in police involvement, physical altercations, and/or emotional outbursts. The library staff and volunteers feel that they are unprepared and unequipped to deal with situations such as these. Additionally, these interactions compel library staff to engage in interventions for which they may not have sufficient training.

To develop policies and recommendations, the graduate students used multiple methods including case studies, literature reviews, a staff survey, expert interviews, and a resource inventory.

Carnegie Stout Public Library
Academic year