Biggest Risks Facing Public Libraries Today

June 29, 2020

It’s no secret that libraries aren’t what they used to be. What once was a haven for bookworms and news seekers is now more of a civic destination where the public can use the Internet, rent videos, download books online, and attend classes and workshops. But with more services offered to the public comes more potential for risks than before. Public libraries have always had to operate with some form of library risk management, but as libraries continue to open their doors to a wider range of the public, the opportunity for risk and liability has risen.

So, what challenges do public libraries face? Let’s take a look to get a better understanding of what libraries are up against.

Ransomware Attacks

Ransomware attacks have seen a sharp rise in public library systems in recent years, especially as libraries offer more Internet services. Whether it’s demanding money or digital currency, library users are opening the door to more potential risks than ever before. Not paying a ransom demand may be the only approach, because paying a ransom might open up to more attacks. Preventing these breaches requires a working partnership with IT and library leaders, and having updated and well-monitored internal system maintenance procedures, spyware protections, and external access control modes that are monitored with more vigilance. IT security is an inherent part of library risk management today.


Another form of cybersecurity attacks, malware is a growing issue in our nation’s libraries. Libraries around the country don’t seem to have a uniform or set policy for the use of thumb drives. Some libraries operate with closed systems, which don’t allow patrons to use a thumb drive. Other libraries allow patrons to use these drives to copy material or connect with their network, such as printers and scanners. Working with an IT department, libraries need to make hard but firm decisions about how much access they are allowing their patrons when it comes to connecting to network systems.

Sexual Harassment

Female employees and younger volunteers at libraries have long talked about stories of being sexually harassed by both patrons and coworkers. Whether it’s commenting on physical appearance or making physical moves towards someone, sexual harassment has been an unspoken element of library systems. These types of offenders who make someone working at a library uncomfortable need to face severe consequences, whether they’re a patron or an employee. These consequences should go beyond just stern warnings and should go so far as calling police, firing employees, and banning offenders.

Opioid Users

The opioid crisis in the United States has shed a light on those who are in need of support. Library restrooms and hidden stacks make the perfect place for opioid and drug users to self-medicate, so libraries should take regular sweeps and checks of the most hidden locations to ensure public safety and compliance.

Staff members should know who to call when a drug user is present or when drug paraphernalia is found. The best response is to not let opioid users go in library bathrooms or hidden stacks. This requires more vigilance from staff members and regular checks every hour to ensure safety.

Service Animals

The definition of what constitutes a service or emotional support animal can be a little hazy. Miscommunication around these animals can present conflicts between patrons and library workers. The problem is that someone may consider a peacock or snake an emotional support animal, which could make others feel uncomfortable. When a patron tries to bring in an animal that is not a service animal, the library staff should request to see documentation for that animal. Inquiring any further beyond what support the animal provides may cause conflict, so staffers should be sure to respect the law and the patron’s privacy.

About Regan Agency

A family-owned business, Long Island-based Regan Agency has more than 35 years of experience serving the library insurance and risk management needs of Tri-State residents and businesses. We have earned the trust of our clients based on our integrity and commitment to offer individuals and businesses quality library insurance products at competitive prices backed by unparalleled responsive service. Just give one of our professionals a call at 631-669-3434.