The hardest day of my life was December 20, 1998.

Even though I was twenty years old, I crawled into my parent’s bed and sobbed. I felt like a frightened five-year-old, but this time the monsters lurking in the shadows were real. Everything had changed. All food had the same bland taste. Sleep was sporadic and unfulfilling. I always felt claustrophobic—even when I was in […]

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 […]

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 […]

Should libraries hire social workers?

“Should our library hire a social worker to help with issues we can’t help with like mental health, housing assistance, etc.?” Library managers ask me this A LOT.  Over the years, libraries have been transformed into community centers. It’s natural that the most vulnerable in the community seek out libraries for help with tough questions. […]

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 […]

How do I balance kindness and strength?

Dear Ryan, How do I be kind without coming across as gullible, weak, or as a pushover?  How do I find the right balance? Mike Mike, I think you are asking the wrong question. You don’t “balance” kindness and strength.  They aren’t opposites. The key is to be both fully “kind” and fully “firm” at […]

How do I get people to leave at closing time?

Ryan, How do you pleasantly convince stubborn patrons that it is time to leave at closing time? We do a pre-closing announcement about 15 minutes before closing. 98% of people are good about collecting their materials and making their way to the front desk. However, we do have that occasional person that doesn’t want to […]

Jack the Jerk?

It was early in the pandemic. I had been living at the shelter for about a month. The shelter had an outbreak. I didn’t want to bring it home to my immunocompromised wife. It was 3:00 in the morning and I was in a deep sleep. I had worked 12-18 hour days for 30 straight […]