Of the 5.8 million visits to Philadelphia Free Library locations in 2015, half a million were from those attending programs or classes designed to impact their overall health including job training, obtaining housing, or nutrition, according to an article on a Fox News mental health blog. “Libraries Can Be a Health Lifeline for People Most at Risk” is the title of the article dated November 11, 2016. This is also a daily reality for most public librarians working in urban, suburban, and rural settings. The blog post recognizes the library for offering support, help, referrals and much more to customers without homes, the mentally ill, new immigrants, and people facing trauma or substance abuse.
Increasingly, libraries are offering programs specifically targeted to the homeless that provide opportunities to talk with library staff, social workers, job counselors, and other social service specialists. Customers who spend the better part of each day with us include a growing number of the homeless, those experiencing mental illness and or substance abuse issues, or those who need help following a variety of personal or family traumas. Many arrive at opening time and spend most of the day reading, using the computers or the WiFi, or simply enjoying a safe place away from the elements.
The Fox article goes on to report findings from the Healthy Library Initiative published in the journal “Health Affairs,” wherein librarians said that they found themselves acting as social workers but did not have the training required for this role. “Daily, we find ourselves helping to refer customers to shelters, mental health services, and even sometimes stepping in to help those “immediately at risk for drug overdose.”
Many public library systems are taking steps to help librarians address gaps in knowledge about providing health information and other services for our customers most at risk. Libraries are hiring nurses and social workers. Resource lists are at the ready for staff. Libraries such as Denver Public Library make resources lists available online via their Community Assistance Resources page. Increasingly, training classes and resources are offered to library staff and security support personnel to help de-escalate issues, make connections, and better serve customers in need.
How is your library responding to this need? Share your tips and resources in the comments.
“Libraries can be a health lifeline for people most at risk.” November 11, 2016. Fox News Health Blog.