As one of the library’s four Safety and Security Monitors, Aaron Alonzo’s goal is to make sure the library is safe and accessible for all. A former police officer, he draws on his experience and training every weekday morning as he makes his rounds throughout the Main Library, monitoring all areas including restrooms, watching for unattended belongings, and ensuring everyone follows the library’s rules of behavior.
At the same time, Alonzo isn’t your typical security guard. “My goal is not to kick people out and police them, but to establish relationships, get to know people and how I can help them,” he said.
As part of the library’s Community Resources Team, which focuses on making the library safe for everyone and connecting patrons with social services, he works to engage with patrons, especially those experiencing poverty, homelessness, mental health issues, and addiction, and to refer them to the library’s social worker for more support.
Respect and dignity
“A lot of the time, you get further by treating someone with respect and dignity,” Alonzo said. “When I talk with patrons who may need extra services, I'm not looking at them like I'm better than them. I’m thinking, you're a person just like me, except you're in a situation that's unfortunate.”
When he took the job in March, he “started by having conversations with people, shaking their hands, finding out what they needed, seeing if there are things we can do to help them get back on their feet, to feel good about Oak Park and the library, to feel that they were given an opportunity here.”
Often, simply his presence can nip problems in the bud, he said. “I have a lot of patrons tell me, ‘You're always around. You're everywhere!’ The best way to do my job is to make sure people can see me. The last thing we want is for patrons to feel uncomfortable at the library and decide not to come back. We want the library to be accessible for everyone whose goal is to use our resources, however that may be.”
Upholding the rules
Patrons who do violate the library’s rules of behavior may be asked to leave the premises for a period of time, and typically meet with the Community Resources Team before they can return.
“Some people won't show up again. They don't want our help and don't want to be bothered,” he said. “But for those who do want to keep coming here, we expect you to uphold the rules of the library, and we're going to keep asking you what you're doing to better yourself.
“I'm glad I'm a part of this. I see the difference we've been able to make, and the people we've been able to help.”