Guideline UL-ADG12 Managing Disruptions within the Library

Main Policy Content


  • Purpose
  • Behavioral Threat Management
  • Threatening Behavior
  • Disruptive or Disorderly Behavior
    • Role of University Police/Campus Security and Office of Student Accountability and Conflict Response
    • Disruptive Behavior Caused by Emotional and Psychological Issues
    • Role of Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS)
  • “Difficult” Behavior
  • Communicating with Staff
  • Tips for Confronting Disruptive or Difficult Behavior
  • Resources
  • Cross References


Responding effectively to disruptions within the Libraries can be one of the most challenging aspects of our work. Fortunately, Libraries’ faculty, staff, and supervisors enjoy a wealth of support from within the Libraries and from our partners within the University. These guidelines for confronting and managing disruptive behavior have been prepared in consultation with the University Libraries, University Police, and the Office of Student Accountability and Conflict Response. 

For additional information and the Managing Disruptions in the Classroom policy, refer to the Office of Student Accountability and Conflict Response’s Conduct Information website.  


If you or other Libraries’ faculty, staff, or users are concerned that someone is acting in a manner that indicates that some intervention is required, and you are uncomfortable or not sure on how you should proceed, you should share your concerns with the Behavioral Threat Management Team (BTMT). The BTMT can then look into your concern and make an appropriate referral if necessary. If the situation is an emergency, call 911 immediately for the local police and then notify the BTMT as soon as practical. 


Behavior is considered threatening if it suggests the possibility of violence and physical harm. 

If you or other Libraries’ faculty, staff, or users feel threatened in any way, call University Police/Campus Security (911; See "Resources" section for list of numbers at each location).

  • Libraries’ faculty and staff, particularly those working evenings, overnight, and weekends, should not hesitate to call their campus or local police in the presence of a threat or the possibility of threat to themselves or other Libraries’ users. 
  • If you’re not sure if you should call, call. Let the University or local police assess the situation. It’s far better to call them when they’re not needed than to not call when they are. 


Behavior is considered disruptive if it interferes with the operation of the Libraries, infringes upon the rights of others to freely participate in Libraries’ services, or poses a risk to Libraries’ facilities, equipment, or collections.  

Disruptive behavior in public areas is sometimes difficult to assess. Be sure to consider the immediate and practical consequences of the behavior. 

Disruptive behavior should be confronted quickly and calmly by full-time Libraries’ staff and faculty (if possible) *: 

  • Identify the individuals responsible for the behavior, and the specific behaviors that are disruptive.
  • Calmly explain to the individuals why their behavior (list specific behaviors) is disruptive.

* Students working as wage or work-study staff may be reluctant to confront peers, however, should be expected to confront disruptive behavior in the absence of full-time staff.

Simply confronting individuals who are behaving disruptively will resolve most problems. If, however, the behavior persists:

  • Explain to the individuals that if their behavior persists you will report the problem to your supervisor. If the individuals become combative or the behavior escalates and a supervisor is not available, contact University Police.

Persistent disruptive behavior should be confronted by Libraries’ faculty or supervisors as soon as possible.

Some individuals or groups may persist in behaving disruptively despite repeated warnings. If this occurs:

  • Assess reports of the behavior if you are not a witness. Be certain of the facts.
  • Meet with the individuals responsible. If the behavior typically occurs outside of your normal work hours, adjust your shift or arrange a meeting with the individuals at a specific time and place.
  • If you do not already have the names and ID numbers of the individuals involved, ask them now to provide their IDs and record that information. If they are unwilling to provide or don’t have PSU IDs, note information that is available, such as names. 
  • Identify specific behaviors. Explain in clear terms that you have no wish to discourage use of the library; however, your staff has reported a pattern of behavior (list behaviors) that is disruptive. Explain that if the behavior stops, the individuals are welcome to continue to use the facility. 
  • Identify specific consequences if the behavior persists. Explain that you will instruct staff to contact University Police/Campus Security immediately if the behavior persists. Explain further that an allegation of student misconduct filed with University Police/Campus Security may result in a referral to the Office of Student Accountability and Conflict Response. * 
  • Do not argue. If you are not an actual witness to the behavior, the individuals involved may attempt to deflect attention to staff or other users. Clearly state that you have confidence in your staff and have instructed them to take the steps outlined above. Offer contact information for your supervisor or department head if individuals wish to take the matter further. 

*For non-students University Police/Campus Security may consult with other local or state police agencies. University Libraries’ administration may also elect to suspend library privileges for non-PSU users. 

Role of University Police/Campus Security and Office of Student Accountability and Conflict Response:

  • University Police/Campus Security are available 24/7 to respond to calls on campus, and staff should not hesitate to call if they or other library users feel threatened, if they suspect that someone has committed acts of theft or vandalism, or if they have been instructed to do so by their supervisors or unit heads. University Police/Campus Security officers will arrive, investigate and carefully assess each situation, and work with Libraries’ staff and the Office of Student Accountability and Conflict Response (PSU students) or outside agencies (local and state police, if necessary, for non-PSU users) to effect resolutions.  [Note: For those campuses not employing full-time security personnel, staff should work directly with the local police department.]   
  • Student Conduct will be notified of alleged student misconduct by Libraries’ staff, University Police/Campus Security, and/or the campus Director of Student Affairs. The Office of Student Accountability and Conflict Response will make contact with each student named in the allegation to schedule a Disciplinary conference. At that time, Office of Student Accountability and Conflict Response staff will determine if a violation of the University’s Code of Conduct has occurred and what the appropriate response should be. Administrative sanctions range from Disciplinary Warning to Expulsion. Office of Student Accountability and Conflict Response staff members have the option to assign educational sanctions in addition to, or in lieu of, administrative sanctions. 

Disruptive Behavior Caused by Emotional and Psychological Issues:

Always contact police immediately if an individual’s behavior threatens the possibility of violence against themself or others.

Disruptive but non-threatening behavior should be confronted by full-time staff or faculty:

  • Explain clearly why the individual’s behavior is disruptive. If you suspect that the behavior is the result of emotional/psychological issues and the individual is a University student, you may suggest that the student contact Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS – see below). 
  • Remember that individuals experiencing emotional or psychological problems may have little or no control of their behavior.  [For campuses other than University Park, please refer students to your campus' available counseling and psychological services.] 
  • If the individual appears highly agitated, contact University Police/Campus Security. 
  • If the behavior persists, but does not pose an immediate threat, contact the Office of Student Accountability and Conflict Response to file an allegation of student misconduct. Office of Student Accountability and Conflict Response staff will meet with students to determine if their behavior is in violation of the Code of Conduct and take appropriate action.  

Role of Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS):

  • CAPS offers counseling on a voluntary basis to students (i.e., students must initiate contact with counselors) and works with other units, such as the Office of Student Accountability and Conflict Response, to assess behavior and recommend courses of action. 
  • The CAPS website includes a listing of counseling services available at commonwealth campus locations. 


Some persistent behavior may not be disruptive, but may nevertheless make staff or other users uncomfortable. Supervisors and staff must always maintain a respect for users’ individual rights of expression, while at the same time fostering an environment that is non-threatening.

Difficult behavior may include:

  • Unsolicited attempts at conversation with staff or users about unusual or controversial topics
  • “Claiming” a public area (table, corner, etc.) by leaving personal effects for extended periods of time when the owner is not actually in the facility
  • Unwanted advances or flirtation with staff or users
  • Attempts to intimidate staff or users to obtain preferential treatment or access to services
  • Vagrancy, sleeping*

Difficult behavior may be confronted in much the same manner as disruptive behavior, by first alerting the individual(s) that the behavior is making others uncomfortable and requesting that the behavior stop. Persistent difficult behavior may require the intervention of University Police/Campus Security or the Office of Student Accountability and Conflict Response or may indicate emotional or psychological issues. 

*Regarding vagrancy or routinely sleeping in the facility – the University does not have a specific policy regarding vagrancy, as the Libraries is a public facility. However, there is a clear distinction between someone using the facility primarily as a residence and/or to sleep and someone who occasionally naps when using the facility for study, research, etc. The former is a clear misuse because it discourages others from making full use of the facility and its resources. Typically, vagrancy involves non-University users. If the behavior persists after a user has been confronted by Libraries’ faculty or staff, contact University Police/Campus Security. 


Clearly communicating persistent behavior problems to staff is essential to ensure that staff responses when confronting such behavior is consistent and to help prevent the spread of misinformation through rumor or gossip. 

  • Communications authorizing specific actions or responses should be issued by supervisors or administrators. 
  • Maintain confidentiality. Specific information about administrative action or sanctions, medical issues or treatment, educational or disciplinary records are considered confidential and should not be shared with staff. Names, physical descriptions, descriptions of behavior, and suggested responses may be shared. 
  • Include supervisors or representative staff from all impacted shifts, work areas, or service points. 
  • Communicate information judiciously to appropriate groups. Supervisors and administrators may receive more information than wage or work-study staff at service points. 


  • Focus always on behavior, not individuals or traits. Avoid personal accusations. 
  • Watch others for cues when assessing behavior. For example, if a group is talking loudly, do others around them appear to be disturbed? If not, it may not be disruptive. If so, then try to address the problem before someone complains. 
  • Whenever possible, pair with another faculty or staff member when confronting one or more users. 
  • Offer alternatives if available. If a group is talking loudly, suggest a group study room. If food/drink is not allowed in one area, direct the user to other areas where food is permitted. 
  • Avoid appeals to policy unless absolutely necessary. Stress the undesirable outcomes of the behavior (i.e., excessive noise distracts other library users) rather than the rule (i.e., library policy prohibits excessive noise). If you are referring potential disciplinary action to the Office of Student Accountability and Conflict Response, however, you may refer to specific violations of policy (Student Code of Conduct items 9 and 14, for example). 
  • Do not threaten. When explaining that you will notify your supervisor, or University Police/Campus Security, or Student Conduct, you are simply providing information. The user’s behavior will determine the course of action. 

Remember that, for some behavioral issues, there may be no legal or administrative remedy. To help successfully manage such issues: 

  • Maintain regular contact with individuals posing potential behavior problems.
  • Respond quickly and appropriately when behavior does become disruptive.
  • Clearly communicate potential issues with all public services’ staff and ensure that responses are consistent.

University Park staff are expected to report the incident to Libraries’ Administration. Use the Incident Report Form located on the Forms tab of the University Libraries’ Intranet. Staff at campus libraries should consult with local supervisors to determine best practices for reporting incidents.


Statements condemning disruptive behavior may be found in the Student Guide to General University Policies and Rules (pp. 14-15), the Penn State University Student Code of Conduct (item 9, Disruption of Operations and item 14, Disorderly Conduct), and the Libraries’ Code of Conduct (item 3). 


Other Policies in this manual should also be referenced, especially the following:

UL-AD04 – Code of Conduct

Effective Date: February 12, 2008
Date Approved: February 12, 2008 (Department Heads)

Revision History (and effective dates):

  • August 2022 - Updated name of Office of Student Conduct to Office of Student Accountability and Conflict Response.
  • February 2022 - Revised language
  • February 27, 2012 – Editorial; Revised to incorporate the Behavioral Threat Management Team as a resource
  • November 13, 2009 -- Editorial; Revised for applicability to libraries at all locations
  • February 12, 2008 -- New guideline

Last Review Date:  February 2022