Libraries for All St. Louis' Action Plan to Divest from Policing & Invest in Community

St. Louis County Library Board of Trustees & Leadership

We have a vision and plan for our libraries to be truly safe. This plan offers specifics for the St. Louis County Library but is easily adapted for St. Louis Public Library and the Municipal Library Consortium. The core values of this plan are abolition, accountability, and COVID-19 safety. In lieu of “community conversations” or empty dialogues, we need tangible action; leaders in the library professional field agree. Together, we've made big changes - including terminating the $580,000+ security contract that stationed police at 6 branches. Let's continue building the libraries we all deserve! Sign on to our action plan!  

Thank you to community members, family, students, organizers, & library workers who contributed to our vision!

To: St. Louis County Library Board of Trustees & Leadership
From: [Your Name]


1. “Public Safety Specialists” (Internal Security) Must Not Replace Cops

St. Louis County Library terminated the contract with Hudson Security services as a result of our organizing to defund the police. However, they are replacing cops with six new internal “security” positions that will be trained by St. Louis County Police with starting wages at $20.03/hr (significantly higher than frontline staff and custodial starting rates). Swapping out one badge for another does not prevent library users from being profiled, harassed, followed, or needlessly policed. This is not effective for creating welcoming and safe spaces. We’ve outlined what does keep us safe. We want the Library to invest in adequate, diverse staffing, peer navigators, anti-racist social workers, and accountability to workers and community members.

2. Stop Encouraging Staff to Call 911 on Library Users

Management and administrators have supported and advised workers to call the police on unmasked patrons after asking them to leave once. This escalates non-emergency situations for both staff and users and leaves it up to staff bias as to who is going to have the police called on them. Calling 911 is not an effective strategy for de-escalating situations or keeping staff and patrons safe.


1. Invest in Participatory Budgeting
Invest $580,000+ formerly spent on contracts that stationed police in branches in lower income areas of the County to a participatory budgeting process. Contract the Participatory Budgeting Project to lead the process so that the people most impacted by the Library’s decisions and those who most rely on the Library’s services determine how that money is spent.

Participatory budgeting is a democratic process wherein residents decide how money from the budget is spent. Divesting from police is a critical step we have achieved, and now the Library must give actual power to those harmed by police presence, prioritizing Black staff and patrons at the six previously policed branches, through a participatory budgeting process. They must hire (and promote) Black staff and patrons to run this process to determine how the full $580,000+ previously spent on police should be used to make our libraries safe for all. They must conduct deeply intentional and extensive outreach to our community to lead and participate. This process must take its course over several months and each fiscal year in perpetuity.

2. Adequate, Diverse Staffing Keeps Us Safer
Adequate staffing creates the safest libraries possible and eliminates the need for police and security. The Library must commit to hiring staff that represent the communities they serve, in particular hiring more Black people in all roles, especially at branch, managerial, and administrative levels.

3. Hire Peer Navigators
Peer navigators, who share lived experiences with the people they support, receive training and support to help marginalized people and people in crisis create safety plans. This effort must be Black-led and of the peer navigators hired, the majority must be Black.

4. Social Worker Contracts Must Include & Prioritize Anti-Racist Frameworks and Experiences
Black social workers and experts must lead this effort. White cisgender women have held too much power in libraries and social work and are not equipped to lead this program. Of the social workers contracted, the majority should be Black.

5. Actual De-Escalation Practices and Training
Proper de-escalation training necessitates an antiracist framework and a framework that does not rely on 911 or policing as the first or most viable strategy.

6. Create a Youth of Color Advisory Board
There are dozens of public libraries in North America that have identity-based advisory councils. This advisory board must consist of Youth of Color from St. Louis County, primarily or solely from North County where Black and Brown teens have been disproportionately banned and harassed by both library staff and police. The advisory board must be gender diverse and have representatives from ages 13-18. This advisory board, unlike Teen Advisory Groups, has system wide policy, budgeting, and programming input. Youth shall be compensated for their time and expertise in the form of payment and/or school credit.

7. Create Trans Affirming Libraries
Create a trans affirming library with gender inclusive restrooms in all branches and departments, HR practices that affirm trans identities, purchasing more books by trans authors and with trans characters, and create a workplace culture that affirms diverse gender identities. Under current practices, transgender and nonbinary employees and patrons are subjected to daily invisible and systemic harms. The Library must affirm trans people by establishing gender inclusive (also known as gender neutral) restrooms in all branches and departments--not just family restrooms. The Library must revise HR practices so that anyone can update their I.D. photo and change their name across all professional platforms. The Library must support teen programming by and for trans people, as well as Drag Queen Storytime for children and teens and must invest in and support queer and trans staff to run these programs. The Library currently excludes gender affirming healthcare from their health insurance plan. We need an immediate end to this discrimination and access to healthcare for trans employees.


1. Healing Requires Genuine Apology & Action
SLCL Administration, including Director Kristen Sorth and Deputy Director Eric Button, and the SLCL Board of Trustees must issue a public apology for the unjustified firing of the 122 staff members during compounding health, economic, and political crises of August 2020. After less than five months after people were fired for advocating for COVID-19 safety and police abolition in the library, new frontline jobs were posted. It is clear there was no long term plan for the library and this decision was punitive and not based in taxpayer accountability.

SLCL Administration, including Director Kristen Sorth and Deputy Director Eric Button, and the SLCL Board of Trustees must issue a public apology for the years of harm done to St. Louis communities and library staff by spending public funds for police presence in our libraries. St. Louis County Police Department has a long history of harassing, terrorizing, and murdering Black, poor, Youth, unhoused, disabled, queer and trans residents. By stationing police at branches, the Library administration has not only facilitated such violence inside libraries, but they have also re-traumatized anyone who has experienced police violence.

2. Restructure Top Heavy Library Administration
This plan requires a restructuring of the library administration. Too much power at the top actively harms the people that carry the library’s mission on their backs. All administrative level employees making over $65,000 annually must not qualify for any future raises. Additionally, in times of great economic crisis, including our present time, these administrative level employees must first undergo pay cuts before any part-time positions are eliminated or any part-time employees are laid off.

3. Drop the “CEO”
The title “CEO” must be stripped from the title of Library Director. We are a public library—not a corporation. Further, no new administrative positions will be formed without approval of branch and departmental staff steering committees.

4. Actual Employee Input
Establish true employee input- including staff-run steering committees and the ability for staff to evaluate their managers. Library system-wide initiatives need clerk, desk, and youth services staff input to succeed. There are initiatives, partnerships, programs, and more ideas the Library will never access without our input. These steering committees must be racially diverse, gender diverse, and ability diverse. Additionally, all evaluations must be 360 evaluations, where managers and supervisors evaluate staff and staff, in turn, evaluate management and the library system. The reciprocal reviews should be saved in employee records and taken into consideration during end-of-year raises for managers or supervisors. All staff, managerial and not, will be given the opportunity to review administrators.

5. Fair Pay
Without investing in staff, we cannot hire or retain employees from diverse backgrounds. Immediately establish a minimum salary of $15/hr for all staff and account for tenure in the raise. All part-time employees will be salaried, offered benefits, and have fully paid lunch and breaks.Part-time staff deserve consistent and reliable wages. Other libraries across the country have part-time employees as salaried workers with benefits and access to healthcare. All employees, families, and their dependents deserve to have the income and healthcare they need from St. Louis County Library. All employees deserve a living wage, especially our most marginalized and most vulnerable. Target and other corporations, including retail and food service, pay a higher starting rate than St. Louis County Library. A key difference between the Library and a corporation like Target is that St. Louis County Library requires desk staff to have a college degree or higher. For a public institution that claims to care about our employees and our community, and one which has a budget surplus nearly every year—and considering many part-time workers are people of color, students, Youth, and elders—it is disgraceful and unacceptable to pay workers anything less than a living wage of $15 an hour. Starting rates of $15/hour will impact all part-time employees, and seniority must then build upon the $15 rate.

6. Affordable Health Insurance for All
Establish affordable health insurance coverage for all employees and their families and dependents. Currently the Library provides healthcare coverage at no cost to full time employees. The cost of adding a dependent/family to this plan is exorbitant. The cost for a part-time employee to join this plan is exorbitant. As a result of low wages and prohibitive health insurance costs, some part-time employees are uninsured. All employees must have access to affordable health insurance immediately.

7. Affordable Childcare
All staff must have access to affordable childcare. Single parents are most disenfranchised by the lack of company-provided/funded childcare. Any child under the care of a library employee must be permitted to be in the branch while the employee is at work.

8. External Arbitration
One HR manager cannot keep 500+ employees safe from the abuse and discrimination that exist at SLCL. After firing 122 employees and doubling down on their commitment to policing, the Library cannot be trusted to keep staff safe. The Library must establish a third-party arbitration process to address employee grievances, particularly when it involves management.


1. Maintain Masks and 2-Hour Visit Limits for Everyone’s Safety
The COVID-19 crisis is not over. For the sake of our communities, which include immunocompromised, disabled, and unvaccinated people, we must enforce mask wearing within the libraries and on the premises while serving customers curbside and distributing meals, diapers, and other services via drive thru lines-- just as the library can enforce other policies that are not legal statutes through our code of conduct. We also need to limit visits to two hours, which is ample time for patrons to use computers and browse.

2. Frontline Workers to the Front
The COVID-19 crisis is not over; many staff are not able to access vaccines and deadlier strains are here. Create a frontline staff advisory board with policy and decision making power. Non-managerial, public-facing staff from all branches must be represented, including custodians. Reopening may not move forward without the Frontline Staff Advisory Board’s approval. Employees have contracted COVID-19, been exposed to COVID-19, and altogether feared for our lives due to policy decisions made without us by people who worked from home. The Library must establish a committee of public-facing employees, majority non-managerial, who create and approve COVID-19 related policies and concerns. The Library must have an effective reporting system beyond one individual in HR for employees to report COVID-19-related safety violations. There must be 100% transparency to all staff regarding the number of positive COVID-19 cases. Staff will use the medical advice of their doctor for when to return to work after a positive test result (even if asymptomatic). Covid pay will be used for the duration of medically advised time away from work.

3. Authorize COVID-19 hazard pay.
All branch staff, drivers, public-facing staff, and custodial workers must receive hazard pay, a minimum of $3/per hour worked in addition to their regular pay rate/salary. We are at constant risk of contracting a deadly disease, even in curbside services where we are providing not only library materials but also diapers, period products, and meals. We regularly encounter patrons in curbside services who do not wear masks, who attempt to approach library staff, who reach to grab something from us, and who attempt to enter the building.

4. Adequate Staffing
It’s so critical that we’ve stated this twice. Adequate staffing will allow flex scheduling to take every possible step to prevent COVID-19 infection and exposure.