Can I enforce the rules if someone is mentally ill?

Dear Ryan, I work in a public library. Last week, a patron with obvious mental health issues set a pocket knife on the table where he was reading. He didn’t threaten anyone with it, but he did leave it out in the open where it was visible to everyone for several hours. Some of my […]

Don’t believe the darkest corners of the human spirit.

I’ll keep it brief. Don’t believe the darkest corners of the human spirit: Cynicism is not wisdom. Hope is not naïve. Cruelty is not strength. Compassion is not weakness. peace, Ryan p.s.  I need to be reminded of this periodically and thought you might too!

What Librarians taught me about social workers

The last two weeks I wrote about social workers in libraries. I got several emails from libraries pointing out issues that I should have included. It reminded me that I am not an expert in this area. That is why I am particularly excited to be interviewing two actual experts for this month’s monthly training.  […]

How about a social work intern in your library?

Howdy! Last week we tackled the question about whether libraries should hire social workers to support folks who need help beyond what the library can provide. If you have no budget but really want to bring social services to those you serve, you may be asking: Are social work interns a good option? MAYBE. Social […]

He could have snapped me like a twig.

This is part 2 in our 2-part series about how to provide backup correctly.  In the last email in this series, we talked about what a backup staff member should NOT do. ——— I was meeting with an intern at the shelter when the phone call came in: “Ryan, get outside quick! There’s a guy […]


Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee were on their quest to return the ring to Mordor. Gollum snuck up on the pair as they slept fitfully. Seeing an opportunity, Gollum lunged for the ring around Frodo’s neck. Unfortunately for Gollum, Frodo woke up at that exact moment and grabbed Gollum’s wrist. The ensuing conversation went like […]

When someone dies in our shelter?

Dear Ryan, I work at a homeless shelter. Do you have any advice regarding the death of clients in a shelter? We have had 3 in the past month. I know it is part of the job, but I would like to better support my staff as well as our guests. Michaela Michaela, Unfortunately, that […]

No one will ever break your rules again…

“None of what you taught will stop people from shooting up in my bathrooms.  How do I stop them?” I had just finished a live training with an international fast-food company.  The manager’s voice was somewhere between frustrated and frantic. I explained—again—how to talk to someone who has broken a rule. He interrupted me.  “I […]

“Old man Jenkins is drunk and swinging on people.”

It was 9:00 pm in the second largest homeless shelter in Illinois. The only employees were me and Chris, who was brand new. It was a quiet night with a relatively low number of residents in the shelter (“only” 150 or so). A resident (a middle-aged Hispanic man with a handlebar mustache) approached Chris and […]

He didn’t want to stab me… At least not at first.

It was 23 years ago, but I remember every detail in vivid color. A beautiful spring day… A mild breeze carried the scent of freshly mowed lawns. The sun was warm. Occasionally it hid behind clouds like a first-time parent playing peekaboo with a newborn. I was doing my rounds at Hesed House, a large […]