Multi-District Staff Development Workshop: The Librarian’s Guide to Homelessness
Following the model of other regions throughout the Commonwealth, the Altoona, Central PA, and Johnstown Districts hosted Ryan Dowd, nationally sought after speaker and author of The Librarian’s Guide to Homelessness, for a four hour workshop attended by 52 librarians and library staff on August 16, 2019 at the Blair County Convention Center.
In the past few years, library circles have become increasingly familiar with Ryan Dowd’s work in encouraging empathy-driven conflict management in serving the public. When asked by the director of his local library to speak at a mini-conference of area library directors, Dowd shared his experience in being at the forefront of assisting homeless populations for over two decades as Executive Director of Hesed House, one of the largest homeless shelters in the Chicago, IL area. Since then, Dowd has offered dozens of trainings to libraries, nonprofits, police departments, hospitals, and other organizations on practical tools that staff can use to manage problematic behavior from troubled individuals in a compassionate manner. In that time, Dowd has also published his 2018 ALA editions book, The Librarian’s Guide to Homelessness: An Empathy-Driven Approach to Solving Problems, Preventing Conflict, and Serving Everyone.
Offered in the form of a virtual meeting, Dowd engaged the audience on how to understand homeless patrons, as well as any individuals who may be facing hardship, with empathy and compassion as a means of reducing problems while enforcing compliance with library expectations. Dowd suggested how a deeper understanding of homelessness and issues that surround it such as mental health and substance abuse was the first step in empathy-driven enforcement, or getting people to follow rules voluntarily.
Dowd’s training emphasized a shift in mindset so that instead of knowing how to deal with the negative behavior after it happens, staff may practice “pre-conflict” skills and be able to lead patrons into the behaviors they wish to see before conflict escalates. Dowd moved attendees into action by presenting numerous examples of how positive interactions between librarians and patrons may happen, encouraging librarians to develop their own personalized verbal and nonverbal tools with which they are comfortable. Participants were left with a strong sense of confidence regarding how to interact not only with homeless patrons, but all of those who may challenge regular library policies and procedures, and more importantly, the notion that treating all people with human dignity is the most effective way to accomplish anything.
Participants earned four hours of continuing education credits for their attendance at this free program.
District Library Consultant
Cambria County Library
This event was made possible by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services as administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Education through the Office of Commonwealth Libraries, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Tom Wolf, Governor.