When Protests Erupt: Alameda County Librarian Cindy Chadwick ’17PhD Shares Tips for Safe Library Events
On June 11, 2022, a Drag Queen Story Hour held at the Alameda County (CA) Library was disrupted by Proud Boys protestors. This event was part of the month-long Pride Celebration held by Alameda County Library, and many public libraries, each June. Alameda County Librarian Cindy Chadwick '17PhD, was present when the protestors entered the building. "We had parents and children there who wanted to come to this event and chose to be there," Chadwick reported to Fox station KTVU. "And to have people come in and try to intimidate those folks and us from trying to do a program like this was just beyond the pale for me."
Drag Queen Story Hour is a global network of local organizations that celebrate reading in age-appropriate ways through the glamorous art of drag. In an effort to promote these events at public libraries across the country, Chadwick shares tips for public librarians to stay safe while holding events for their patrons.
Before the Event:
1. Assign roles to library staff in advance.
How many staff will be working the day of the event? If something happens, who will call the police? Who will meet the police at the door? Who will keep an eye on the performer(s) and get them to a locked, staff-only area? Who will keep an eye on the attendees, encourage them not to engage with the protestors, and lead them out of the immediate area? Brainstorm as a team about other roles/duties required.
2. Decide if you want someone to film an event if a protest occurs.
More than one of the protestors had his phone out, filming everything. One of our staff members pulled out her phone and also filmed everything. This was not planned, but turned out to be a good decision, as the police investigation is using this video to identify some of the protestors. As for releasing the video to the media, talk with staff in advance and work with your HR/Legal department to figure out how you want to handle it.
3. Sketch out a Communications Plan
Sketch out a communications plan in advance, in case an event occurs. Who needs to know that this event occurred, and in what order do people need to find out? What can you say about it, legally? A quick public statement for the media, and to share with library staff & stakeholders, will serve you well for the first few days (ours is below). Have the same person (library director or communications director) handle all media to keep the message consistent. Write a few sound-bite friendly talking points and stick to them. Send out a longer communication within the week and cascade it (we sent it to managers, then to all staff, then to the public). Expect that you will be full-time communicating about the incident for several days. The media was most intense the day after the incident, and on the following Wednesday because of a press conference held by Rep. Eric Swalwell and the Sheriff's Office, at the Library.
Statement from Alameda County Library:
Libraries are open to all and are places that foster inclusion of all our communities. Attempts to intimidate and silence others are not tolerated in libraries. We are grateful to Panda Dulce for showing bravery and resilience and finishing the Storytime event. We will continue to celebrate Pride Month and offer programming that reflects the diverse voices and experiences of all our communities. We appreciate the support that has poured in from communities throughout the Bay Area.
During the Event:
4. Create a Safe Space
Set up an area in another part of the library with some kid-friendly furniture, crayons, and coloring sheets. If you have to escort the families out, take them there and encourage them to stay if they are comfortable doing so. One of the successes of our Drag Queen Story Hour was that both the performer and the families came back and finished the story time. As shaken up as everyone was, they were all glad they stayed. Create spaces to hold them.
5. Support Your Staff
Confrontation can impact everybody differently. Let staff know ahead of time that no one is required to stick around and be verbally abused. If a staff member needs to step out, that is ok.
6. Stay Calm
If there is no threat of physical violence, stay calm and try to de-escalate. Inform the protestors that they are in violation of library conduct policy and need to leave the library. Have copies of library conduct policy in hand. If they don't leave, call the police. While waiting for police, match the number of protestors with the number of library staff 1:1, if possible. Don't touch the protestors, talk quietly, maintain calm body posture, listen but try not to engage, and keep them away from other library patrons as much as possible, without isolating yourself. The protestors on 6/11 wanted to show us videos on their phones of other Drag Queen Story Hour performers. I watched the videos and didn't say anything.
After the Event:
7. Take Good Care of Your Staff and Performers
Take good care of the Library team. Bring treats, find other staff to cover desk time, just be around to talk and let them vent. When the time is right, debrief: What did we do well? What could have gone better? What did we learn?
And remember to send follow-up treats and love notes to your Performer/Drag Queen!