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'We've reached a breaking point': Saskatoon libraries reducing hours amid workplace violence

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Some libraries in Saskatoon will be closing earlier after an employee and security guard were allegedly assaulted at the Carlyle King Library Monday night.

Carlyle King Library was then closed Tuesday following the incident before re-opening on Wednesday, an employee told CTV News. 

In an emailed statement on Friday, the Saskatoon Public Library (SPL) said an employee was struck and a security guard was physically assaulted.

“While these types of incidents are rare, the library takes each one very seriously and we’re committed to providing a welcoming, safe, and harassment-free environment for library patrons, employees, and contractors,” SPL senior marketing and communications specialist Kirk Sibbald said.

Police responded to an assault in progress at the library in the 3000 block of Laurier Drive at around 8:37 p.m. on April 15.

“Upon arrival, officers noted the two suspects had fled the scene. Shortly after, officers located and arrested the suspects at a bus mall in the 300 block of Confederation Drive,” Saskatoon Police Service (SPS) said in a release.

Police said two teen girls, 14 and 16, have been charged in relation to the incident.

“The victim [employee] is believed to have suffered minor injuries,” SPS said.

Police said it’s believed teens were under the influence of an intoxicant at the time of the assault.

Sibbald said due to a “growing number” of concerning incidents happening at libraries, beginning Monday, April 22, the SPL is bringing some changes to hours at four locations.

“The hours at Frances Morrison Central Library, Dr. Freda Ahenakew Library, Mayfair Library, and Carlyle King Library will change to 10 am – 6 pm, Monday to Saturday. Sunday hours will remain 1 – 5:30 pm,” SPL said.

SPL said in the coming days and months, they will engage more deeply with the employees and partners to find solutions.

A long time issue

While SPL leadership says these incidents are rare, CUPE, the union representing Saskatchewan library workers, says employees have been flagging the issue for years to no avail.

"It has reached a breaking point. These types of violent acts happen all the time in Saskatchewan libraries," CUPE president Kent Peterson said.

"I don't think it's an exaggeration to say, given the increase in the prevalence of violence in Saskatchewan libraries, that if this problem isn't fixed immediately someone is going to get killed as a result of workplace violence."

Library interim CEO Beth Cote said violence isn't the only concern. Over the last few years, a variety of social, mental health and addictions issues have been worsening inside libraries. Without any options for refuge, many people are spending more time at the library.

"There is an overall increase in sort of the baseline that our library workers are dealing with and they are letting us know that it's very stressful like it's difficult to come to work each day," she said.

"We can't manage without places to refer people to at all times. So what we are seeing is that those services are less available in the evenings than they are during the day."

However, Peterson is expecting more. He says a library worker was sexually assaulted on the job this year, and someone attempted to abduct a worker as she left work to walk to her car in 2022.

"Would you want to show up every day at work not knowing if you're going to get punched that day, or spit on or god forbid something even worse than that?" Peterson said.

"They know what the solutions are -- they just don't want to invest in them."

Peterson feels SPL workers should never work in any area alone, they should be outfitted with alert devices to notify other workers in case of an emergency and other supports like social workers should be staffed at libraries if that's where people are ending up.

More than anything, he points the blame at Premier Scott Moe and the provincial government.

"His cuts to some of these support services that people need are having an impact in all different types of places," Peterson said.

"They need a home. These folks that have addictions issues, they need places they can go to get help. And some of them are overdosing in libraries. I mean, those types of services must exist in the community because libraries can't provide those services."

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