St. Paul sees libraries as the next frontier of community safety

St. Paul is investing $1.5 million in federal dollars in the public library system to improve public safety.

The investment is part of a new $10 million public safety initiative plan aimed at reducing violent crime in the city.

Residents of the St. Paul community say the library isn’t just a place to read books — it’s a safe space and community hub.

Not everyone enters the library to turn a page. St. Paul resident Princess Titus calls the burgeoning building with books a healing space.

“My family was affected by communal gun violence about 12 years ago. I lost my son Anthony two weeks after his 16th birthday,” Titus said.

Saint Paul was the beginning of a new chapter.

Titus said the St. Anthony Park Library acts as a gateway to peace.

“It gives me a good opportunity to get away from home and be around good people,” she said.

Maureen Hartman, assistant director of the St. Paul Public Library, explained that investing in public safety will allow them to connect with more people and raise awareness.

“All of these people come to the library for many different reasons and we want to make sure we make their business as successful as possible,” Hartman said.

In the “Library Optimal Response” plan, one of the objectives is to improve the means of helping and supporting young people and adults struggling with problems that go beyond the walls of the library.

“One of the investments we made a few years ago was for a social worker at the library. So that’s something we have in our library spaces and this security specialist program that we’re going to develop is going to make that even better,” Hartman said.

Security specialists will also be a new addition to St. Paul Libraries.

In other cities, these specialists help by building relationships with regular visitors, connecting people to social services and defusing disruptive behavior.

“I think it’s one of those spaces that is really accessible to most people. It’s very comfortable for most people,” said St. Anthony Park Community Council member Jessica Willman.

Willman explained that investing in library public safety can meet people where they are and create safer outcomes in St. Paul.

“It’s a great investment, I think, for every single person in our community,” Willman said.

Looking ahead, Hartman explained that the team is in the planning stages and the goal is to get the project off the ground within the next six months.