Gerry was high on crack.

Gerry caught me in the hallway of the shelter. He wanted to talk. He was obviously high on crack. The conversation went something like this (read Gerry’s lines as fast as you can to simulate how he talked): Gerry: My boss won’t pay me the money he owes me. I don’t even like the job. […]

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 […]

Can withdrawal from heroin kill you?

The intern’s face was pale white, and her eyes were panicky. “Ryan, I need help.” She led me into her office. Harold was lying on the concrete floor of her office. “He says he is withdrawing from heroin,” the intern said. I tried to talk to Harold but didn’t get very far. He was far […]

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.  […]

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. […]

The world is worth saving…

Snow huddled in the creases of the Rocky Mountains. A fat Marmot—like a groundhog, but unable to predict spring—chattered at us angrily. My 23-year-old son, Cameron, and I were at the peak of a mountain, nearly 13,000 feet above sea level. We sat on large grey rocks with a 360-degree panoramic view of craggy heights, […]

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 […]

Don’t “rub it in” that people are homeless.

Two weeks ago, the newsletter was about how to get people to leave your organization at closing time. Part of my advice was to remind people that “Staff need to get home to their families.” I received a few emails chastising me for “rubbing it in” that staff have families and homes, while homeless folks […]

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 […]