Winnipeg academics' open letter urges change to Millennium Library security

A group of Winnipeg academics is urging change to new security screening measures at the Millennium Library, which they say contradicts the goal of public libraries and fall hardest on the people who need the library the most.

Mandatory bag checks, metal detectors introduced in February for safety: library services manager

Visitors at the Millennium Library have to pass through new security screening before entering. (Lyza Sale/CBC)

A group of Winnipeg academics is urging change to new security screening measures at the Millennium Library, which they say contradicts the goal of public libraries and fall hardest on the people who need the library the most.

An open letter from the group of close to 40 faculty members and librarians calls airport-style security screening at the downtown library invasive, demeaning, time-consuming and ultimately exclusionary.

"As academics who live, teach and research in the city of Winnipeg, we find this security screening inimical to goals of public libraries, to the city's stated goals of reconciliation, and a worrisome departure from evidence-based policy and decision making," the letter reads.

Mandatory bag checks and metal detectors were introduced at the library in February. Ed Cuddy, manager of library services, has said they're a response to an increase in the frequency and severity of violent incidents and threats in the library.

The academics from the University of Manitoba, University of Winnipeg and Universite de Saint-Boniface are adding their voices to others who have protested the barriers since their introduction, including community protest group Millennium for All and University of Winnipeg librarian Brianne Selman, who wrote an open letter on the security measures earlier this month.

"I'm worried that the outcome will be that the library will be increasingly less accessible for people — perhaps the people who it is the most important that they have access to," said Adele Perry, a history professor at the University of Manitoba who helped draft the letter over the past couple of weeks.

"My concerns are that … whatever the intentions of the policies are, that it will work out in such a way that people who are housing insecure, who carry a lot of their material possessions with them, people who are vulnerable in a range of other ways, will be most affected by this policy."

Harmful to reconciliation: letter

The screening doesn't fit with the City of Winnipeg's goal of reconciliation, Perry said. Security measures like the screening often fall disproportionately on Black, Indigenous and racialized people, and she said their presence goes against the library's work on reconciliation in the past.

"The adaptation represents a serious retreat from the City of Winnipeg's and the WPL's [Winnipeg Public Library's] commitments to working toward making a city that welcomes and celebrates its Indigenous citizens and grapples with ongoing histories of racism and colonization," the letter says.

The new security measures cost $30,000 and no new staff were needed.

Perry said the academics who signed the letter want to raise questions about the decision-making process that went into the security measures, and what evidence it was based on.

"In particular, our concerns are that this is a policy that has not been introduced elsewhere in Canada in public libraries, and … the reason for that is, by and large, that it is not supported by the available evidence, as far as we can tell."

The letter calls for alternatives to screening, like increased staffing and consultation with users and staff.

Kerry Macdonald, president of the Manitoba Library Association, said libraries across the country may face challenges in settling on standard security protocols due to their varying models and clientele. But she said the solution lies in conversations between librarians and the public.

"It is difficult to determine the best way forward for libraries when it comes to dealing with community-related safety concerns and issues," she wrote in an email.

"There is no easy fix and libraries must find a way to balance the safety of their staff and their clients with their desire to serve and help all community members."

On your mobile device, click here to read the open letter.


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