On Getting Punched in the Face While Working at the Library

(Happy National Library Week!)

How library workers at small urban branches combat the true violence of oppression poverty

Steve Kemple


On Saturday afternoon a man punched me in the face (I’m OK) while I was working at the Price Hill Branch Library in Cincinnati, Ohio, where I’m the manager. (Happy National Library Week to you, too!) I asked the man to leave because he was belligerently yelling profanity and racial slurs at a teenager. The man — who has since been taken into police custody — was clearly agitated and mentally unwell; the words coming out of his mouth were clearly the product of a disordered mind. However, antagonistic words and behavior are unacceptable in the library, and in this case he was in violation of our Standards of Behavior. I proceeded to escort him out of the building, following a few paces behind to make sure he left. Halfway to the door, he spun around and made a lunging gesture at me. When I didn’t flinch, he struck me on the right side of my head with his left hand. It wasn’t a strong blow, but it was enough to knock my glasses off. I was more stunned than anything. I simply gestured to the door: “Leave. Now.”

The rest of what happened isn’t important. There was a police detail on premise, which prevented the situation from getting uglier (although the guy did get away; he has since been apprehended).

I’m sharing this narrative for a couple of reasons. First, in a weird way, there’s a silver lining: a lot of kids were in the library when this happened. One thing I’m constantly struggling to impart to them is the importance of — and power in — not fighting back. When I talk to kids about this, they always say “but what if someone’s attacking you. Are you just gonna let them?” In their minds, there are three options: 1. fight back (win or lose, at least you aren’t a coward); 2. let them beat you up (maybe you’re not a coward, but you sure are stupid) or 3. run away (coward!). I honestly can’t say I was thinking this (or anything) in the heat of the moment, but in retrospect I feel like I was able to show them this lesson in a real, tangible way. I stood my ground. I didn’t fight back. I calmly told him to get out. And he got out.

Later on, looking at the security footage of the event, I saw something I didn’t catch the first time around. There’s a teenager, I’d guess 13 or 14 years old, standing on the other side of the library watching it all go down. He’s someone I haven’t interacted with individually very many times. Sometimes he’s in a group that gets too loud, and I have to walk over and ask them to lower their voices, turn off cell phone music, etc. This is usually the extent of our interaction. When the man punched me, this kid didn’t hesitate: He briskly walked across the library, fists clenched, clearly ready to jump in and fight this dude on my behalf. (The guy who hit me, by the way, was around 6’2″ and muscular). As I’m steering the man towards the exit (keeping my distance, mind you), the kid stops. He looks at me, and then to the man, who is heading out the door, and back to me. The kid’s fists are still clenched, but he stays behind me in a stance of solidarity. He was emulating my body language.

I’m proud to have been able to clearly demonstrate a different kind of masculinity. I hope it made a lasting impression on him and the other kids, and I hope he always remembers the power of nonviolence. There were lots of other kids, too, who came running. Yes, there was an element of spectacle, but it felt like something more. Solidarity. Watching the security footage, I’m humbled.

The second reason I want to share these events is to convey the swift and powerful response of support I received from my library’s administration. Within an hour, two regional managers, my HR rep, and a member of our Senior Leadership Team reached out to see if I was okay and to offer guidance and support. Our HR director personally came out to the branch just to see how I was doing. This was all on a Saturday afternoon. I couldn’t have asked for a more supportive response.

Finally, I want to use this as an opportunity to put a spotlight on the kind of work performed in small urban libraries and the frankly heroic feats that library workers perform every day. Collections of books and digital resources are awesome, but there’s an even more valuable resource that’s shared by every library: its staff. Staff are every library’s most important and valuable resource.

The blocks surrounding the Price Hill Library are among the most densely populated in Cincinnati. The poverty rate on some blocks is higher than 60%, and the eviction rate on the block adjacent to the library is in the top 1% in the nation, at 17.71% as of 2016 (see data on evictionlab.org). The eviction filing rate is even higher, at 26.04%. That means in 2016 eviction proceedings were filed against 1 in 4 households. I can only imagine living under the constant fear of losing your home, barely scraping by.

Which isn’t to suggest that there aren’t people in the neighborhood who manage a stable life — many are thriving. I’m continually in awe at the resilience of the people I’ve had the privilege of serving and getting to know. But every day I see people walking through the doors desperate for an escape. The people in the Price Hill community rely on the library not only as a point of access to needed information, resources and entertainment, but also a respite from a stressful existence as well as a place to gather. When people walk up the steps and through the door, this is what they cary with them, this is what they seek, and this is what we try our best to provide.

And while it pales in comparison to what the people we serve deal with, it still takes its toll on staff. A major source of work stress is our building — which opened in 1909 and has never been renovated — simply isn’t designed to accommodate the number of people we serve. Our median daily visitor count is more than 400. Many days more than 600 people walk through the door. Price Hill has the highest number of visitors per staff hour per open hour in the entire system. Yet we are one of the smallest branches in the system, in terms of square footage, staffing, and allocation of resources such as program funds. At peak times, we may see 20, 30, or more children and teens in the building, along with a dozen or more adults. Many of them walk in looking for respite from whatever crisis life is presently dealing them. Many of them walk in, un- or underemployed, with un- or inadequately-treated mental or general health issues. Many of them are hungry. They may come in fresh from having lost their job, or been served eviction papers, or witnessed a friend or family member overdose. They come in with burdens saddled upon them by the life of systemic poverty and oppression. The staff at Price Hill and other small urban branches are there to help in any way we can.

I do want to to shy away from portraying library staff as saviors, which is obviously problematic. But the work performed, the emotional labor, the environment endured, is worth highlighting.

While it’s frustrating to see how urban branches serving the city’s most vulnerable populations have been allowed to languish over the decades — even as more and more people are displaced into those neighborhoods and the need for library service becomes greater and greater — I believe there is cause for optimism. The recent past has seen a slow reversal of this trend. New positions have been created (we’ve had a Teen Librarian for a month now, and other small urban branches have been getting new TL positions as well). There are other initiatives in the works that will help level the playing field for the small urban branches. I can feel the tide turning.

Most crucially, however, is the upcoming levy, Issue 3 on the ballot May 8th. The primary purpose for seeking this levy is to fund a much needed facilities plan, central to which is repairing and updating the branches whose buildings are unable to accommodate the needs of their communities. For Price Hill, this means:

  • Becoming handicap/ADA accessible (which would also entail completely redoing our vile public restroom, hallelujah!)
  • Sidewalk replacement
  • Update electrical wiring (more outlets!)
  • Flooring repairs
  • Interior paint and plaster
  • Furniture replacement
  • New lighting
  • Exterior painting
  • Etc.

This means that, for the public, the branch will be much more comfortable. We are going to be looking at the layout and thinking about how to best accommodate the number of people who use the branch. For staff, this will mean a better work environment.

For those of you in Cincinnati, voting starts April 10th and Election Day is May 8th. If you value the important and inherently radical work that library workers perform every day, I urge you to publicly share your support for Issue 3, and, of course, VOTE!

So, as we enter into National Library Week, consider going to a small urban library and thanking the staff for the challenging work they do. Just please don’t punch anyone in the face.

Steve Kemple is the manager of the Price Hill Branch Library in Cincinnati, Ohio

Posted with permission from Medium

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#InvestinLibraries for #SOTC2018

In the current NYC FY 2018 – 22 February Plan, the TriLi will receive flat levels of funding that leave no room for increased support, increased or new resources, or improvements to infrastructure.  

Join us on Twitter as we raise awareness for libraries during the Mayor’s State of the City Address! Follow #SOTC2018 and @ULUnyc and let our Mayor’s office know that we want to #InvestinLibraries.

Please feel free to copy & Paste these tweets or customize them!


  • Making NYC the “fairest big city in America” can’t happen if improvements & support for libraries aren’t adequately budgeted. We deserve more than flat funding levels. @NYCMayor #SOTC2018 #InvestinLibraries
  • Libraries provide services in every aspect — education, immigration, employment seeking resources, youth engagement, — for all New Yorkers. #InvestinLibraries for stronger services. #SOTC2018 @NYCMayor
  • Libraries are the cornerstone of every community. #InvestinLibraries  and invest in all New Yorkers. #SOTC2018 @NYCMayor
  • Libraries are a safe haven for many teens and young adults, with dedicated teen spaces all throughout the NYC. #InvestinLibraries #SOTC2018 @NYCMayor
  • Successful NYC businesses got their start at the local library. #InvestinLibraries and invest in small businesses of NYC. #SOTC2018 @NYCMayor
  • Across the 5 boros, NYC Libraries play critical roles in providing services to new immigrants, from English Conversation hours to providing tangible resources on citizenship. #InvestinLibraries #SOTC2018 @NYCMayor
  • NYC libraries are often the only place that households have access to internet. Flat-funding leaves no room for infrastructure repair or tech replacement. #InvestinLibraries #SOTC2018 @NYCMayor
  • NYC libraries continue to make integral steps toward leveling the playing field for all, regardless of income or background — and waived fines for all youth so they can have unencumbered access to books, tech, & more.  #InvestinLibraries #SOTC2018 @NYCMayor
  • Libraries are one of the few places where all people and generations can be and work together. #investinlibraries #SOTC2018 @NYCMayor

Net Neutrality and some FCC BS

The FCC is set to vote to eliminate net neutrality this December. Urban Librarians Unite joins the dozens of organizations denouncing this action.

Open access to information and the unbiased dissemination of information is critical to democracy and education. The “Restoring Internet Freedom” proposed rulemaking of FCC Chairman Pai focuses on how the Internet flourished for two decades of “light-touch regulatory framework.” It didn’t flourish for Americans. During those two decades we saw the exponential increase in the digital divide that left rural Americans disconnected and we saw Internet Service Providers (ISP) interfering with their customers’ access to certain information.

We are just weeks away from an FCC vote tokill net neutrality. Only Congress can stop it.

If you’re a relatively moderate consumer of news and occasionally take a peek at social media, you may see a lot of threads and posts about #NetNeutrality, or #SavetheInternet — and it’s a big fucking deal.

So here’s the deal with Net Neutrality – the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) currently requires internet service providers to treat all online data equally. As in, they can’t charge more for highly trafficked sites, they can’t slow down service to others, provide preferential treatment to certain sites, or prioritize access to others — if it’s an ISP, they have to provide the same level of connectivity that is being paid for across all of the internet. This ensures that there is a level playing field for everyone on the internet.

(Disclaimer: that last statement is very generally speaking and in reference only to Net Neutrality — lots of other advantages do exist to companies and content creators online, but at the very damn least, access to their site and to another site that has less attention would be equal.)

Led by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, the Republican majority FCC now wants to roll back this order; they’re set to vote on it by December 14.

K. Not cool.

Want to know what that may look like?
Business Insider already drafted that up for us, with a bit of an in-depth look into how Portugal allows mobile data providers to handle their business. Basically, Meo, Portugal’s wireless carrier, charges for access to different apps on a tier

Portugal customers of MEO’s tariff pay for the proprietary apps, but for varying big name social apps, they have to cough up additional costs per month.

And all these big name apps? Our Net Neutrality ensures that they can’t pay off a provider to monopolize the market. Our Net Neutrality ensures a fair market for others to rise up and compete against these big names. Our Net Neutrality also ensures that people/consumers can access other avenues aside from these apps that tend to dominate the market.

It happened here. Without net neutrality, our access to applications varied with the network we were connected to. In 2012, AT&T blocked Apple’s FaceTime application for users connected to its network. Users were allowed to access the application once they connected to a different network. FCC Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in re: Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet at 41.

And that’s just one example of how it reversing this order can turn out.

What if ISPs decide that certain sites don’t align with their political/religious/social views?
Without the Net Neutrality order, they could theoretically block access to sites like YouTube, Facebook, or even your own blog where you spew of these radical ideas of how libraries are important as fuck.
Or your digital portfolio, or your online resume…. Or your LinkedIn because there are certain companies there that they don’t agree with or haven’t paid a fee to them…
And on and on and on and on.

Net Neutrality means no blocking, no paid prioritization, no cherry picking which sites or apps get ‘fast lane’ access.

And for those assholes that say that this is all theoretical? Remind them that they’re eliminating the power of choice and they are basically making it legal for companies to silence your free speech and the free speech of others.

Don’t let this corporation-dominated FCC pull one over you.

Save the fucking internet.

Awesome Shit to Do at NYLA 2017

text - awesome shit happening at NYLA 2017 surrounded by floating smiling poop emojiIt’s that time once again. The time when librarians across New York State make their annual migration to Saratoga Springs, to learn, and party, and also to party..

Where was I? Oh right, NYLA Annual Conference! It’s coming up in LESS THAN A WEEK! How did that even happen?! That means it must be time for the 3rd Annual “Awesome Shit Happening at NYLA” List, where we highlight cool events, presentations by library staff who have shown up to an ULU things once or twice, stuff library staff who have shown up to an ULU thing once or twice might be interested in, and frankly, events with an open bar (or cash bar, we aren’t picky.)

There are a bunch of really great things going on this year, so see below for a schedule of highlights!

Say Hey to ULU at the Conference!
We’ll be set up with a fun display in the hallway all conference, but pop by and check in with us during the exhibits only time. Try on a creepy advocacy bird head. Sign up to volunteer! Join a committee! All the things!


NYLA After Dark – Trivia Fundraiser
Thursday- 10:00pm – who knows!
It’s been a long day, but you can’t go to bed now!!! Not when there is trivia to be had. Join ULU for a late night of fun, and trivia you’ll admit to knowing, but not voluntarily! This event will be to raise money for the NYLA Disaster Relief Fund (let’s hope that this is not a disaster for the organizer’s careers while we are at it).

Spring Trail Fun-Run
Friday – 6:30 AM – 8:00 AM
Wake up, pop an aspirin, drink a gallon of water and stumble out to the Spring Trail Fun Run! On this out and back run, we will take a slightly hilly 5k course around the Skidmore Campus. Sidewalks, bike lanes and soft gravel paths will keep us all safe, but since this is a pre-dawn event, headlamp and reflective gear are suggested. Approximately 3.5 miles.
Registration for this event is $8 per person.  Proceeds to benefit the NYLA Sustainability Initiative Fund.

Conference Programs You Might Think are Awesome

4:15 PM-5:15 PM
Libraries are a Powerful Platform for Change
Libraries are a powerful platform for positive change in the lives of those we serve. We can change the world, one library at a time. Raise your awareness and be inspired to own your role as a sustainability leader in your community. Our goal: Ensure that New York’s communities thrive, bounce back from disruption and are infused with new and better life for everyone. Libraries can lead the way. This event will combine the conceptual with the practical. Participants will leave with a deeper understanding of how to position the library as a community leader, create mutually beneficial partnerships and inspire future investment in the library.
Rebekkah Smith Aldrich, Mid-Hudson Library System
Matthew Bollerman, Hauppauge Public Library

9am – 10am
Stalk Your Elected Officials
You can’t always convince decision makers that libraries are awesome, but we can help you convince them that libraries make a difference in something they really care about. Rather than saying “Hey, Libraries are great, you should support us,” you can say “Hey, do you want a solution for those issues that are important to you? We already exist!” Learn to create a database of your local decision makers, what they care about most, and customized talking points, so you and your advocates can always be ready for that surprise advocacy moment.
Lauren Comito, Queens Library
Christian Zabriskie, Yonkers Public Library

TeleStory: Keeping Families Connected
The program will look at how BPL’s TeleStory program connects families with incarcerated loved ones and offers supports — from literacy to referrals for reentry services — to incarcerated individuals, their families and their communities. The program will describe: the incarcerated and reentry populations and the particular barriers they face; how the TeleStory program works in concert with in-person jail visits; why public libraries are the ideal space for projects like TeleStory; how we envision the project developing our work with this most heavily marginalized population.
Nick Higgins, Brooklyn Public Library
Michael Carey, Brooklyn Public Library

New To NYLA? Start Here!
10:30 AM – 11:30 AM
Welcome to NYLA! If you want to learn about library advocacy, how to become more involved, or have ever wondered what the organization does for libraries, please join us.

Connecting with Patrons in Poverty (ULU Sponsored session)
11:00 AM-12:00 PM
Learn how to create an outreach plan that targets different types of patrons in poverty, including the homeless and people who are of lower socioeconomic status. Learn effective communication skills and a deeper understanding of differences in communication styles. Gain an understanding of barriers created by poverty and how policies made in the library can contribute to those barriers.
Virginia Wescott, Troy Public Library
Anita Favretto, New York Public Library
Kim Mcmann, New York State Community Action Association

Let’s Get Graphic
3:00 pm – 4:00pm
From comics to manga, learn how to incorporate graphic novels in your library! A panel of experts discuss their experience with collection development, censorship, education, and programming with graphic novels. Librarians with experience working with children, teens, adults, English language learners, and academic libraries share their advice on using graphic novels to serve their patrons. Learn how to develop a graphic novel collection, anticipate and overcome challenges, and how graphic novels can best serve your community.
Joshua Firer, Levittown Public Library
Rosemary Kiladitis, Queens Library
Michael Buono, Patchogue-Medford Public Library
Lissetty Thomas-Johnson, Brentwood Public Library

Build Your Digital Community Voice
Conference participants will engage in an interactive panel discussion aimed at exploring Brooklyn Public Library’s oral history project, Our Streets, Our Stories and BKLYN Mixtape, a podcast of local Brooklyn makers, tech folks, and artists. Take advantage of easily accessible forms of digital media to create and share fully functional visual and audio stories from your patrons and community members. We’ll talk about tools like SoundCloud, iTunes, Tumblr, and BKLYN’s website and social media platforms. Brooklyn Public Library, a system with 60 branches serving over 2.5 million residents, is well positioned to discover, record, and preserve these community stories. Our panelists will share practical tips for bringing out the best stories from patrons and will share ideas for attendees interested in launching or enhancing their own projects through podcast production.
Taina Evans, Brooklyn Public Library
Phillip Bond, Brooklyn Public Library
Stephanie Elstro, Brooklyn Public Library

10:45 AM-11:45 AM
Hooray for Social Justice!
Social justice is imperative for a functional democracy. As libraries are in the democracy business, social justice is part of our core mission. We’ve heard from library people who believe in social justice, but don’t think they should take explicit stands on issues of race, sexuality, gender, religion, nation of origin, or class discrimination. They are concerned that the community will perceive the library as a politically partisan entity. In Hooray for Social Justice! we will dive into the difference between partisanship and speaking for our core values, and try actions every library can implement to build a culture of social justice. Note! This is not a sit and listen program! This is a do and discuss program! You’ve been warned.
Margo Gustina, Southern Tier Library System
Eli Guinnee, Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Library System

No Free internet? No ULU. #savetheinternet

fire breathing unicorn being ridden by a masked cat weilding a laser gun in front of a rainbow. text - keep the internet weird. defend net neutrality

Please join us in support of the Internet-Wide Day of Action to Support Net Neutrality.

I remember when the World Wide Web began. No I was not part of Arpanet but I did write & edit copy for a web design company in Boston in 96 (did a ton of work on the first site for Zildjian). The web was wild and exciting and as a guy who already loved libraries I was astonished at the information and access that was there right at the beginning.

The digital tap is still a wonderful geyser. You can access everything from Bible commentary to esoteric books of ritual magic and every conceivable point of reference in between. The web is a major avenue of commerce of course but it’s also incredibly empowering for the little guy. Urban Librarians Unite could never have the reach and output that we have had without free and open access to the web. If we had to pay to put this in front of you right now then you would not be seeing it.

This is what is at stake as the FCC tries to kill net neutrality and allow the isps and big cable companies to set the policy. The web will go from a fascinating crazy open space that you can lose yourself in for days, where you can be who you want, see what you want, CREATE what you want to just another queue in our velvet rope society. If you can afford the ticket you will still be able to play. If you are big you can throw some sway and get to the front of the line every time, if you are a small org or tiny company then you are stuck hanging out in the back. If you want access to the latest popular consumer culture you’ll be set but cable companies will get to decide what you don’t see and they will do so with the direction of your community’s self-appointed moral guardians. Profit shall be the sole and only measure of worth and usage. If you can’t pay up and pay well then you are out of the game.

Opponents of net neutrality say that it is unfair to businesses (which remain very profitable BTW), and that ultimately it is not government’s place to interfere in the open market. These arguments are frankly utter and complete bullshit.

The whole “America works best in a free and open market” trope has blown up in our faces time and time again. When you take off regulations and consumer protections the big guys get bigger, the little guys go under, and the consumer loses out because there is no competition left. Look around your community and see how many independent pharmacies there are. We all know what happens to Mom and Pop shops when Walmart rolls into town.

It’s ridiculous to see the internet as non-essential in America in the 21st century. It’s how we buy goods, watch TV, listen to music, and connect with family and friends. It pervades every part of America’s private and public lives which is EXACTLY why it is essential that it be maintained as a fair and neutral space with equitable access and pricing.

If we let it get away we will never get it back again.

Please join Urban Librarians Unite, the American Library Association, and just about every online company you know and like in standing strong for Net Neutrality.

Christian Zabriskie
Executive Director