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Just Say No: Keeping Your Library Drug-Free and Safe

by on October 20, 2016

The body of a homeless man, who frequented the Oak Park Public Library in suburban Chicago might have been there for days before a maintenance worker unlocked the building on a Monday morning in April. The cause? An accidental heroin overdose.  The security company responsible for clearing the library was fired. “On both a personal and a professional level, we were all very shocked and of course worried about how this could happen in our spaces,” Executive Director David Seleb told CBS News.1

The number of opioids sold and the number of related deaths have quadrupled in the United States since 1999. A 2014 DEA study showed that 94% of those in treatment for opioid addiction turned to heroin because it was cheaper and easier to get than prescription painkillers.The same things that make libraries a good place to study also make them a place where individuals feel they can get away with drug use. There are quiet corners, private study nooks, and large stacks where one can easily find some privacy. They’re free and open to everyone who walks in, and lingering is welcome.

However, many libraries now have makerspaces and computer labs which encourage more pedestrian traffic, making the library less of an anonymous space. They are also taking other initiatives to discourage drug use and even train librarians how to react if they do discover an overdose. These are things you can do in your own library.

Invite Your Police Department to do Routine Walk-Throughs

Most libraries have limited budgets and if anything those budgets are getting smaller, so hiring security might not be an option. However, encouraging your local police departments to do routine and random walk-throughs of the library, especially those out of the way areas and restrooms, is an excellent option. This discourages illegal activity and helps patrons and staff alike feel more secure. Utilizing police in combination with staff to make sure the building is clear before closing can prevent tragedies like the one in Chicago.

Partner with Social Workers

Counselors and social workers can play a large role in addiction recovery,3 creating an alliance with those who are addicted, encouraging them to seek recovery, and even helping them form a plan in case they relapse. At the Ann Arbor District Library in Michigan, social workers set up shop inside and help organize recovery support groups who meet there. This partnership enables them not only to intercept drug activity before it gets started but to offer professional services and guidance to patrons who are struggling.

Train your Staff and Volunteers

The American Library Association encourages librarians to get training on interacting with special populations, such as drug users and the homeless, but stresses the importance of partnering with groups such as police and social workers, Julie Todaro, the association’s president told CBS. Some librarians have taken this a step further. Boston’s libraries have needle drop boxes and have offered overdose prevention training for employees and residents. Health officials have provided some libraries in California with the overdose antidote Narcan,4 enabling library staff to save lives if they see an overdose happening. Many of those struggling with addiction to opioids are also struggling with other mental health issues that go hand in hand with dealing with chronic pain. These mental health issues can also affect other aspects of their physical health.5 The library is often somewhere they see as a safe place, a haven from their otherwise hectic and displaced lives. Libraries have to balance the need to be a public space available to everyone in the community with their very real responsibility to patrons to keep them safe. This can be done by partnering with police and social workers along with training employees and volunteers to recognize symptoms of heroin addiction you can make your library safe and drug-free.







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