Module 24: Transforming Library Culture with The Restorative Approach

Go Back: Module 23: Transforming Library Space and PoliciesYou are here: Module 24: Transforming Library Discipline with the Restorative ApproachNext: Module 25: Transforming Library Space and Policies

After working through this module, you will be able to:

  • Describe the restorative approach.
  • Differentiate between punitive and restorative practices.
  • Explain the benefits of using restorative practices.
  • Act in your library to employ restorative practices in a variety of contexts.


School and public libraries often rely on a culture of “compliance and rule following” (Homrich-Knieling, 2022) to maintain order and provide a “safe” space for community members to explore resources and interact with one another. However, increased police presence in public libraries and schools, along with the rise of privatization of security services, has pushed many libraries towards a liability framework that “blurs the distinction between library staff and security staff” (Robinson 2019) – a framework that disproportionately affects BIYOC.

Traditional punitive approaches to maintaining order and ensuring security contribute to a culture of white supremacy, further marginalizing BIYOC, and causing communities to become fractured. Research has found that when library behavioral norms and policies are enforced through a system of surveillance and policing many BIYOC view libraries as unsafe and unwelcoming.  As a result, many youth of color are rejecting or are being excluded from library spaces (Gibson and Hughes-Hassell 2023). Fortunately, many school and public libraries have started to turn away from punitive approaches and instead using restorative practices and prioritizing  relationship building as a way to create safe and welcoming spaces for all youth. 

In this module, we will discuss the definitions of restorative justice and restorative practices, and explain how the two concepts complement each other. We will go further into the why and how of the restorative approach. Finally, we will provide examples of the approach in practice, and discuss possible questions you or your colleagues might have as you put restorative practices into action.

Defining Restorative Justice and Restorative Practices

One common misconception when pursuing restorative work is the conflation of restorative practices with restorative justice. One simple way to differentiate the two is that where restorative practices are proactive, restorative justice is responsive. 

Stephen Jackson defines restorative practices as “deliberate and proactive approaches that aim to strengthen relationships between individuals and the communities they belong to” (Jackson, 2021). Restorative practices identify relationships that have been ruptured and seek to repair that rupture before harmful incidents occur. An example of restorative practice can be seen at Oak Park Public Library, where they hosted the Leading Edge Barbershop. The shop was staffed with local barbers who gave free haircuts to community members, providing opportunities for relationship building with the public that otherwise may not have occurred (Jackson, 2021).

Restorative justice, on the other hand, is a responsive approach to repairing and addressing harm done within a community. The aim of restorative justice is to repair the well-being of the person harmed, the person responsible for the harm, and the community impacted by the offense, which can include processes like victim-offender mediation, conferencing, or offender assistance programming (Jackson, 2021). This approach to repairing harm requires all participants to recognize each other’s humanity, and value each other’s wellbeing. In order for restorative justice to be effective, you need not only a deep understanding of youths’ lives, but an ability to extend trust and vulnerability and accept those things in return. (Zehr and Mika, 1998). This recognition of shared humanity, trust, and vulnerability is all necessary for the effective utilization of restorative justice, and is also strengthened through the proactive use of restorative practices in our communities. 

Who is…

Stephen Jackson

Stephen Jackson Headshot

Stephen Jackson is the Director of Equity and Anti-Racism for the Oak Park Public Library, and a leader in the field of restorative practice. In this position, he coordinates the implementation of the library’s Anti-Racist Strategic Plan. He is a trained Restorative Practitioner. Before his current position, he managed the library’s teen services.

Both restorative justice and practices operate within the context of history. As Jeanie Austin writes, these frameworks “provide a medium for addressing histories of power and oppression that have been reinstated by traditional library practices” (2020). In Section 1: Foundations you learned some of this history of racism in America broadly, and libraries specifically. In order to practice restorative practices and restorative justice, this history must remain central to your work.


The Teen Vogue article Police in Libraries: What the Cop-Free Library Movement Wants by Ella Fassler outlines the expansion of police presence in libraries in recent years and the effects policing has on patrons, especially BIPOC patrons and unhoused patrons.

The Book Riot article Why Police Shouldn’t Be in Libraries by Gina Nicoll discusses reasons to abolish policing in libraries and strategies library staff and users can employ to support the move away from police presence in libraries.

Rethinking Police Presence by Cass Balzer in American Libraries provides examples of libraries that are changing the way they interact with security and law enforcement.

Why the restorative approach?

Every school and library is different, and it is important to tailor restorative practices and restorative justice initiatives to the needs of your community. This will increase the likelihood of receiving the positive outcomes you are after. With that being said, there are researched-backed examples of the potential benefits of using the restorative approach in school and public libraries. You can use this research in discussions with colleagues and administrators. Libraries and schools that implemented the restorative approach:

  • Decreased office discipline referrals (Anyon et al., 2016; Goldys, 2016)
  • Decreased suspension rates (Riestenberg, 2003; Sumner et al. 2010)
  • Decreased racial suspension rate gaps (Gonzalez, 2015; Jain et al. 2014)
  • Increased social problem-solving and pro-social behavior among youth (Featherston, 2014)
  • Increased attendance (Armour, 2012; McMorris, 2013)
  • Increased student awareness of available resources (McMorris, 2013)
  • Increased student feelings of safety (Goldys, 2016)
  • Increased staff connection and collaboration (Jackson & Swancy, 2023)
  • Increased active listening and positive behavior modeling (Juarez, 2023)
  • Addressed trauma, both shared and individual  (Juarez, 2023)


Stephen Jackson, Director of Equity and Anti-Racism at Oak Park Public Library in Illinois, is a leader in the library community when it comes to implementing restorative practices. Listen to this 20-minute Library Leadership podcast, where Jackson talks about creating restorative circles in libraries.


In Restorative Approaches to Behavior Management in Libraries, a YASLA snack break, Shauna Anderson, Supervisor of Young Adult Services at Skokie Public Library, talks about why libraries should consider integrating restorative approaches in their work with teens, and what restorative justice and restorative practices are.

The SchoolTalk DC video Introduction to Restorative Justice provides an overview of using the restorative approach to promote community building and socio-emotional development in students via the real-world example of DC’s public and charter schools. Hear from educators and students about how the restorative approach has worked for them.

The SchoolTalk DC video Core Processes of Restorative Justice Circles introduces the concept of restorative justice circles and offers guidance for implementing circles in your own practice. As noted by the creators, “Circle processes are a restorative dialogue practice inspired by the traditional ways of Native American, First Nation, and other Indigenous peoples.”

Images of Practice - Icon by Adrien Coquet from Noun Projectimages of practice

What would proactive restorative practices actually look like in practice? In this video you will watch Sarah Glasband and Kaliyah facilitate a restorative practices circle at MetWest High School in Oakland Unified School District.

Implementing restorative practices can also have an impact on a library or school’s culture. In this video, students, teachers, and administrators talk about how implementing a restorative approach to discipline has changed their school. If you work in a public library, as you watch the video, consider how moving from a discipline-based approach might affect your library’s culture.

To see more videos of restorative practices and justice in action, you can browse the videos available at Restorative Solutions


Stephen Jackson discusses restorative practices and offers ten practical steps for integrating restorative practices in public libraries in this article from Library Journal. The article includes numerous examples of how libraries have already begun engaging in this work. 

Read the Learning for Justice Toolkit: The Foundations of Restorative Justice that discusses school discipline and classroom management with the goal of providing educators the tools to change their actions so that these do not have to be based on compliance. Learn more about restorative practices in this companion piece to the feature article “It Was Always About Control.”

Trauma-Informed Restorative Discipline: A Guide for Creating Restorative Learning in Your School [PDF] by Mali Parke and Tarek Maassarani with RestorativeDC and School Talk: Voices of Change provides information on approaching restorative practices in a school setting in response to “misbehavior”. The different sections of this guide are:

    1. The Restorative Approach to “Misbehavior” As A Learning Opportunity
    2. Restorative Practices from Stress Escalation to a Restored Capacity Back to Learning
    3. Restorative Room Implementation


In March 2023, WebJunction hosted a webinar titled “Creating a Restorative Library Culture,” presented by Stephen Jackson and Tatiana Swancy, both from Oak Park Public Library (IL). You can view the webinar recording and access all materials here

The “We Came to Learn: A Call to Action for Police-Free Schools” report and action kit by Advancement Project. This report does multiple things:

  • Examines policing practices in America’s public schools and their roots in the criminalization of Black childhood. 
  • Discusses the documented harms of school policing and the disparate impact it has on students of color, students with disabilities, and LGBTQIA+ students.
  • Centers the voices of young people who describe what they have experienced at the hands of school police- specifically cataloging known assaults of young people by school police officers.
  • Documents the school policing model and how school police became institutionalized in America’s public education system with funding and policy at federal and local levels.
  • Calls for the removal of police from schools and envisions schools where Black and brown students are “afforded the presumption of childhood that they deserve”. 

The Core Assumptions of Circle Processes [PDF] that was outlined in Circle Forward: Building a Restorative School Community provides the guiding principles of circle keeping. The purpose of restorative circles in the peacemaking circle tradition is found in traditions of many indigenous cultures and applied to modern-day contexts. These circles “promote openness and shared voice amongst individuals of a group in order to celebrate, build community, make decisions, or address harm/conflict.”

In February of 2024, Chicago Board of Education unanimously voted to remove police from Chicago Public Schools. This article discusses that placing police in schools contributes to the school-to-prison pipeline for students of color and the funding that went into Chicago Public School’s contract with the Chicago Police Department.


Take a moment to complete the School Readiness Assessment Tool [PDF] found in Appendix B of RestorativeDC’s Implementation Guide. The assessment tool is intended to get librarians and educators thinking about their institution’s current approach to addressing harm, their desired approach, and the resources they can draw on to get from one to the other. 


Now that you have learned more about restorative justice and practice and considered real-life examples, consider how you might implement these concepts into your library or school daily and on a long-term basis.

Fill out the Trauma-Informed Restorative Discipline Toolkit Worksheet [PDF] (p. 12-13) with peers and administrators, to reflect on how your library can implement restorative practices effectively. 

You may also create restorative circles/peace circles, created in Indigenous communities. The Core Assumptions of Circle Processes [PDF] contains step-by-step instructions, guiding questions and assumptions, and organized note taking sections for reflection.


Listen to SchoolTalk’s RestorativeDC’s podcast Circle Up DC. Episodes include Restorative Justice & Student Voice, Integrating Arts with Restorative Practices, Voices of Black Male Educators as Disciplinarians in School, and more. The podcast is embedded on their webpage and available through most podcast streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

But Wait!

In this section, we address common questions and concerns related to the material presented in each module. You may have these questions yourself, or someone you’re sharing this information with might raise them. We recommend that for each question below, you spend a few minutes thinking about your own response before clicking the arrow to the left of the question to see our response.

What if I, or my students, don’t feel safe in the library without security guards?

Who is made to feel more safe by the presence of security guards, and who is made to feel less safe? Why do we prioritize some people’s safety over others?

As you’ve learned in the previous Project READY modules, surveillance, and policing have different impacts on different communities that use the library. Police can make BIYOC feel not only unwelcome but actively unsafe in our spaces. By insisting on having security guards, or in some libraries police officers themselves, libraries send a message about who they are trying to protect, and whose safety and comfort they are prioritizing. If we want to create a welcoming, inclusive space for BIYOC we have to remember the history (and present) of policing in America and find other ways to foster safety.

There’s already so much to do, how am I supposed to find the time to incorporate restorative practices every day?

Adding restorative practices into your everyday work as a librarian will only enhance the rest of the work that you do. The primary responsibility of a youth librarian is building community and trust with the communities that we serve. Restorative practices help to create and strengthen those relationships, which in turn benefit all the other work that you do in your library. If you have deep, trust-filled relationships with the youth in your library, your programs will be more responsive to their needs and desires and will be more successful, your collection will reflect their interests and be utilized more. It is worth the time and effort it takes to create those bonds of trust.

I tried doing a restorative circle with my students, but their behavior didn’t change.

Restorative practices aren’t one-time interventions aimed at behavioral changes. They are a different way of conceptualizing the relationships that we are building in the library. Doing a restorative circle in response to an incident is a great way to start! But restorative practices means taking the time to cultivate a relationship of trust that goes both ways. Don’t give up after one restorative circle! Invite that student into continuing conversation and relationship. Remember, a lot of young people are used to punitive forms of “justice,” and it might take time for them to adjust and trust you when you say that you are doing something different.

Additional Resources

Davis, F. (2019). The little book of race and restorative justice: Black lives, healing, and US social transformation. Good Books.

Equipping leaders: TSDC’S toolkit for transformation. Transforming School Discipline Collaborative. (n.d.).

Pranis, K. (2005). The little book of circle processes: A new/old approach to peacemaking. Good Books.

Robinson, B. (2019, December 11). No Holds Barred: Policing and Security in the public library. In the Library with the Lead Pipe.

References and image credits

Anyon, Y., Gregory, A., Stone, S., Farrar, J., Jenson, J. M., McQueen, J., … & Simmons, J. (2016). Restorative interventions and school discipline sanctions in a large urban school district. American Educational Research Journal, 53(6), 1663-1697.

Armour, M. (2012). Ed. White Middle School Restorative Discipline Evaluation: Implementation, and Impact.

Austin, J. (2018). Restorative justice as a tool to address the role of policing and incarceration in the lives of youth in the United States. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 52(1), 106-120.

Featherston, T. R. (2014). An experimental study on the effectiveness of a restorative justice intervention on the social aggression, social problem solving skills, and prosocial behaviors of African American adolescent girls (Doctoral dissertation, Capella University).

Gibson, A.N.,  and Hughes-Hassell, S. (2023). ““Maybe She’s Just Strict to Everybody”: Race, Belonging, and Surveillance in the Library. The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy, 93 (3), 227-293.

Goldys, P. H. (2016). Restorative practices: From candy and punishment to celebrations and problem-solving circles. Journal of Character Education, 12(1), 75-81.

González, T. (2015). Socializing schools: Addressing racial disparities in discipline through restorative justice in Closing the School Discipline Gap: Equitable Remedies for Excessive Exclusion, New York: Teachers College Press.

Jackson, S. (2021). Restorative Libraries: Restorative Justice Practices and How to Implement Them. Library Journal.

Jackson, S., Swancy, T. (2023). Creating a Restorative Library Culture [Webinar]. WebJunction. 

Jain, S., Bassey, H., Brown, M. A., & Kalra, P. (2014). Restorative justice in Oakland schools. Implementation and impact: An effective strategy to reduce racially disproportionate discipline, suspensions, and improve academic outcomes. Oakland Unified School District.

Juarez, A. H. (Host). (2023). Embracing Restorative Practices in Leadership with Stephen Jackson (No. 141) [Audio podcast episode]. In Library Leadership Podcast.  

McMorris, B. J., Beckman, K. J., Shea, G., Baumgartner, J., & Eggert, R. C. (2013). Applying restorative practices to Minneapolis Public Schools students recommended for possible expulsion. Applied Clinical Informatics, 4(3), 434-444.

Oak Park Public Library. (2021, October 8). Stephen Jackson hired as Library’s first director of equity and Anti-Racism. 

Riestenberg, N. (2003). Restorative schools grants final report, January 2002-June 2003: A summary of the grantees’ evaluation. Minnesota Department of Education. Retrieved July, 22, 2009.

Sumner, M. D., Silverman, C. J., & Frampton, M. L., (2010). School-based restorative justice as an alternative to zero-tolerance policies: Lessons from West Oakland. University of California, Berkeley, School of Law.

Zehr, H., & Mika, H. (1998). Fundamental concepts of restorative justice. Contemporary Justice Review 1: 47–55.

Go Back: Module 23: Transforming Library Space and PoliciesYou are here: Module 24: Transforming Library Discipline with the Restorative ApproachNext: Module 25: Transforming Library Space and Policies