Connecticut librarians can find themselves on the front lines of a community’s biggest challenges. From mental illness and drug use to poverty and crime, the life of a librarian may not be as easy – or as safe – as some might think.
NBC Connecticut Investigates obtained records from police departments across the state which showed there were thousands of calls for service to local libraries over the last two years.
“It is more than just coming in and checking in and checking out a book,” said Leticia Cotto, the customer experience officer at Hartford Public Library, about how times have changed. Public libraries are now the crossroads of our communities.
“We’re librarians. We’re not social workers,” said Pat Rutkowski, who serves as director of the New Britain Public Library.
“It’s a constant evolution,” she added of how public libraries are changing to better serve the needs of the public.
Helen Malinka, director at the Berlin-Peck Memorial Library, echoed that sentiment. “People coming in with issues that we are not trained to handle,” she said. “Homelessness, mental health issues, poverty, family issues and we can point them in directions.”
More often, librarians find themselves on the leading edge of whatever comes through the door.
“We would hope that everyone knows but we understand that a lot of people wouldn’t know,” said Ayanna Wright, who is the teen librarian at Russell Library in Middletown. Wright said she does not always know all of what her workday will bring.
NBC Connecticut Investigates obtained two years of police department records from 20 different communities – big and small – all around the state. Page after page showed how often law enforcement had been called to local libraries. Thousands of police calls service were reported between January 1, 2018 through December 31, 2019.
In East Hartford in January 2018, officers said they investigated after a man was found to be looking at child pornography in the Raymond Library’s teen section. In July 2018, East Hartford police responded to a call about a woman who was threatening to kill herself. The woman was transported to the hospital for treatment.
In May of 2018, police in West Hartford responded to reports of a patron who had previously threatened to “blow up” the Noah Webster Library. The male suspect was later charged with criminal trespassing.