Perhaps you’ve seen a student walking through Norlin, wearing a vest that says “Security,” stopping to take pictures of the walls in various corners, registering their presence at checkpoints around the building.
These students work for the University Libraries Security force.
The University Libraries hires about 50 students each year. One of them is Lacey Porter. She started working with the Libraries Security in her first year at CU Boulder. She admitted that it was her first job ever and she was terrified.
“But everyone was really friendly,” Porter said. “The staff is very family-like.”
Fast forward three and a half years. Porter is a senior English major and a shift leader with Security and works for Libraries Building Management too. She’s student-teaching this semester. Looking back, Porter said that the job has taught her how to be on high alert.
“Whether I’m in the classroom or at the library, I notice everything,” she said. “Even if I’m not working. It’s nice to not panic when the lights turn off unexpectedly or when a chair breaks. And if there were ever to be a more serious situation, for instance, if someone came to the building that wasn’t ideal, I know how to talk to them calmly and how to deescalate the situation without panicking. But in Security, we also learn when to walk away in order to keep ourselves safe.”
What Porter describes, Libraries Security Operations Manager Thara Siriwardana calls having “situational awareness” of one’s surroundings at all times.
“Safety is one of those things we always assume that we have, but safety awareness is really something that we have to put effort into,” Siriwardana said.
Siriwardana said that security is about protecting the people, the place, and what the place protects. In this case, it’s millions of books and other rare materials. To help keep visitors safe, Siriwardana said that student guards learn what’s called ‘verbal judo,’ a type of training course founded by George J. Thompson for police, corrections, and security professionals.
“Verbal judo is essentially the concept of moving a conversation or a person’s opinion in the direction you would like it to go,” said Siriwardana.
Siriwardana said that the skills taught to student employees in Security leave them more confident and prepare them for careers in law enforcement and other protective service-type positions. Carl Stewart, the Libraries Building Manager, said that working in Security is a great experience for students.
“It’s a lot of responsibility,” Stewart said. “They’re the eyes and ears of the building. It’s a huge building and at least once an hour, they’re doing checkpoint rounds at critical locations, they let us know about any problems and it’s really helpful.”
Even off the clock, Siriwardana has noticed that students report incidents.
“I’m always impressed by how our students perform given that this is a part-time job for them and they have somewhere between 15 and 18 credit hours of classes each semester,” said Siriwardana. “They’re managing to enforce our values and our core ideals and somehow manage their own lives as well. They give us a lot.”
Ultimately, the work that Security does helps support the research and academic interests the campus community across all five of our library locations. These are the students that help keep the Libraries students and collections safe. One thing is for sure: the Security team are the unsung heroes of our Libraries.