Public libraries: more than just books

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John F
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Public libraries: more than just books

Post by John F » Tue May 28, 2019 8:06 am

Many of the New York Public Library's 90 branches provide some or all of these services in addition to access to books. The research libraries such as the one where I work don't do much of that, but when a parent or nanny asks about children's books or a children's area, I can refer them to the Riverside branch library right across the street. And kids who are old enough to use our resources can do so, and are treated as if they were adults. With the Juilliard School and two New York public schools within a block of us, we get a fair number of young users, and that makes me happy.

When Libraries Are ‘Second Responders’
Deborah Fallows
2:50 PM / May 23, 2019

Everyone knows about first responders. I’ve come to think of libraries as playing a crucial role as “second responders.”

In Ferguson, Missouri, the public library stayed open when the schools were closed after the riots, to offer the kids a safe place and even classes taught by volunteers. After the hurricanes in Houston, some library websites were immediately up and running, announcing that they were open for business. After Hurricane Sandy, some libraries in New Jersey became places of refuge. And in the Queens Library’s Far Rockaway branch, which didn’t have heat or light, the librarians set up shop in the parking lot to continue children’s story hours “to give them a sense of normalcy,” says Christian Zabriskie, who was a Queens librarian then. “Story time at the end of the world” he called it. In Orlando, after the nightclub shootings, the library hosted an art gallery for those who made art as a way to express and share their reactions. After the Thomas Fire, the Santa Barbara Public Library invited the public to share their stories and lessons, to help heal and prepare for the future.

Libraries step in to fill gaps and offer help when normal channels are inaccessible. Pima County, Arizona, pays for a team of nurses to come to the library to help with medical questions for those who can’t or won’t go to a hospital, clinic, or doctor. In Charleston, West Virginia, librarians told me that they have launched searches for people to research health issues or concerns. In some libraries, librarians have Narcan training. In Bend, Oregon, a social worker has helped prepare the librarians to work with people who came in with sensitive, personal questions, such as how to meet their rent and mortgage payments.

Others report that they have helped people figure out how to have a dignified funeral when they have no money for one. In Las Vegas and surrounding Clark County, among the hardest-hit areas of the entire country during the 2008–2009 financial collapse, the leaders of the public-library system found ways to stretch and reprogram their budget to ensure that their system would stay open seven days a week during the crisis, because they knew their citizens would need its resources to cope with job loss, house foreclosures, and more.

Carved in the granite above the doorway of the imposing flagship Carnegie Library in Columbus, Ohio, are the words Open to All. I have seen homeless people line up waiting for the doors to open so they can spend the day inside comfortably and safely.

In my hometown of Washington, D.C., I trudged to our local library during an extreme cold-weather episode a year or two ago and read a handwritten sign saying that the library was closed because of the cold, and pointing to the emergency shelters that were open instead. Librarians have told me that they’ve heard from homeless people about one of the important reasons they go to libraries: These are the only places where they are treated with respect. Librarians also told me about the various rules and regulations they impose about noise, sleeping, eating, “bathing” in restrooms, disruptive behavior, and storage of belongings. They say that occasionally people are placed on “sabbatical” from the libraries for infringements and are sometimes referred to public places where they can take showers. None have reported serious incidents to me, which suggests that respect is mutual.

The most serious of these examples are testament to the trust that citizens place in their libraries and librarians. The Pew Research Center reports that 78 percent of people say libraries help them to find information they can trust. Librarians are nothing if not discreet. I have asked librarians about their users looking at pornography on the public computers. They demur, kind of, and say that they don’t look at what people are doing on the computers, and others say that they only step in when someone complains.

Zabriskie, who now works in Yonkers, points to the complexity of being a librarian these days. “Amidst glory days of librarianship,” he says, “there can be trauma. If every day’s work were just reading to toddlers, great. But sometimes those kids are homeless.” “Sometimes librarians are Batman,” Zabriskie says. “Sometimes they are ghosts in the machine. We have to resist hardening the space.”

If these are the libraries acting as second responders, there are also plenty of cases where they respond as providers of second chances.

The Los Angeles Public Library offers a chance to earn a high-school degree for those who missed out the first time around. Mayor Eric Garcetti and City Librarian John Szabo hand out diplomas. The most popular volunteer opportunity at the Smiley Library in Redlands, California, is for adults to teach other adults how to read and write. Public libraries across the country offer a variety of paths to help people find new economic opportunity, with job and interview support and digital skills training.

And listen for how often you hear adults credit the public library as the place that spirited them away in their youth from anger or sadness or boredom at home. Many libraries make themselves appealing to schoolchildren of any age as a safe, warm place to do homework or just hang out when they can’t or won’t go home. I have seen and heard variations on this theme that range from the library being the only place the kids could go, to the library being the cool place where teenagers would hang out. I heard these comments from the desert communities of Arizona to the small towns of California to the urban centers of the Midwest and East Coast.

There are libraries in prisons, for those who can’t go out, and books delivered to prisons when inmates request them. Library books are delivered to remote schools in Kanawha County, West Virginia, for teachers who don’t have access to materials. Extending that metaphor of the library coming to the people, I have seen pop-up libraries in parks in Wichita, Kansas. There is a summer program around Minneapolis lakes to lend books in watertight containers from a library raft to boaters. And there is a library in the big shopping mall in Ontario, California, opportunistically placed for presumably reluctant shoppers who accompany enthusiastic shoppers.

Welcome to the new realities of public libraries and librarians. ... rs/590098/
John Francis

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Re: Public libraries: more than just books

Post by barney » Tue May 28, 2019 5:41 pm

Libraries in Australia don't have examples of such extreme contributions as keeping life going during hurricanes, but I think they are growing in importance. They have something in common with churches - many people, research shows, go to church for community and only later, if at all, believe. Churches hold many non-religious activities, from coffee mornings for the elderly, language classes for immigrants to play groups, recycling groups, opportunity shops etc.
Libraries too are a tremendous source of community, places where people can gather, and they too sometimes run programs not entirely related to books. I love libraries, and spend a bit of time in them. Most are warm, well-lit and welcoming.
And what a pleasure it was in 2016 to see JohnF at work at the front desk of his New York library, and spend some time there investigating the shelves.

John F
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Re: Public libraries: more than just books

Post by John F » Mon Jul 15, 2019 9:26 am

I Found My American Dream at the Public Library
By Daniela Petrova
July 12, 2019

In his op-ed for Forbes last year, Panos Mourdoukoutas, a professor of economics at LIU Post in New York, suggested that Amazon stores should replace libraries to save taxpayers money. Following the backlash this preposterous suggestion created, Forbes took the article down. But the outpouring of love for libraries in response to the piece was priceless, reconfirming the intrinsic role of libraries in the fabric of American communities.

Libraries were instrumental to my experience as an immigrant and I rejoiced watching social media explode with messages in defense of the local library as a cornerstone of our democracy.

One of the hardest aspects in the life of an immigrant is not fully belonging anywhere. One foot stays firmly rooted in your country of origin no matter how hard you plant the other one in the host country. Even though I’ve lived in the United States for 24 years, the first thing people ask upon meeting me, courtesy of my accent, is “Where are you from?” And when I go back to Bulgaria, everyone calls me The American. But there is one place where I always feel at home—the library. Any library. Anywhere in the world. The familiar smell of books, the shelves packed with old and new tomes, the friendly staff eager to help.

I. Local libraries provide a refuge and a community

I grew up in Bulgaria during the Communist years and when, in the spring of 1995, I arrived in New York at the age of 22, barely speaking any English, the culture shock nearly knocked me off my feet: there were the skyscrapers (the tallest building I’d seen was 24 floors); the cars (my family didn’t own a car and for the first year in New York, I considered it the greatest luxury to take a ride outside the city even if for only 30 minutes); the grocery aisles stuffed with all types of food, ten different brands for each item (in the years before I’d immigrated, we’d had a shortage of basic goods, like milk, and the government had issued a restriction on the number of bottles one could purchase). I didn’t know what a credit card was, nor a check. I didn’t understand the concept of health insurance. I’d never touched a computer. I’d never eaten a burger, a doughnut, a bagel.

I didn’t know a soul except for my husband. He was the superintendent of a luxury building on the Upper East Side where we had a tiny apartment on the ground floor. Our neighbors rode in limousines and if they ever encountered me in the lobby, they averted their gazes without so much as a nod in greeting. My job as a cleaning lady didn’t exactly help in meeting people either. This was long before cell phones and social media. While many people in America had computers and some had AOL emails, I didn’t even know what an email was. The letters I wrote to my friends and family in Bulgaria took two weeks to travel in each direction.

Feeling lonely and isolated, I found refuge in the Yorkville branch of the New York Public Library. It was the only familiar place in this foreign land. Here, among the shelves of books, even if I didn’t speak to people, I felt comfortable. Like I belonged. We were a community of readers, regardless of our maiden tongues, our religion, our age or the color of our skin. The Yorkville library was not that different from the one where I’d checked out my first books as a kid in Sofia. All you needed was a library card, and you could read as many books as you wanted.

II. Libraries are free

Because libraries are free, no one is excluded from their services. Children, people with disabilities, the elderly, the poor, the rich, everyone can join. In those early years in America, when I bought my clothes in thrift stores and furnished my apartment with the chairs and carpets my wealthy neighbors discarded, my local library was the only place where I didn’t feel poor, foreign, lesser. As librarian Amanda Oliver pointed out in her Twitter response to the Forbes op-ed, the library is “one of few places in our society where the underserved can be treated with dignity and respect.”

Public libraries erase privilege, providing access to information to those who cannot afford to purchase their own books, computers, WiFi. I learned a lot of my English by checking out novels I had previously read in Bulgarian—War and Peace, Crime and Punishment, Martin Eden—poring over the familiar stories, figuring out the meaning of the words as I went along.

III. Libraries can empower the disenfranchised

Libraries provide free access to information and that includes not only books and magazines, but also computers, WiFi, films, research databases, and invaluable human guidance. I learned how to write a resume by consulting different guides before sitting down at the automatic typewriter I had at home and typing it up using just two fingers. Following that experience, I checked out a book on how to type and started practicing.

While access to information is very important it is not enough. You need to know what to search for and where to search for it.

I’d dropped out of the architecture and civil engineering university I was attending in Sofia in my third year to come to New York, naively thinking that I would continue my education in America. It didn’t take me long to realize how out of reach my goal was. I had difficulties finding a job as a cleaning lady; saving enough money for college was out of the question. My break came when I told one of my clients about my background in architecture. He’d recently made a donation to the Thomas J. Watson Library at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and asked the head of the Periodicals Department if they could use someone with a background in architecture who spoke Bulgarian and Russian. A couple of weeks later, I was accepted as a volunteer; and soon thereafter, I was offered a part-time job.

The Watson Library became my home, the staff my family. I learned to use a computer there, taking staff education classes in MS Word and Excel. I learned to make small talk. I made friends. My vocabulary expanded. I was using words like “acquisitions” and “deaccession” on an everyday basis. A couple of years later, the head of the cataloguing department, where I was assisting at the time and who knew I was eager to go back to school, sat me down at a computer with Internet access. She pulled up Columbia University’s website and explained that if I worked for the university, I’d be eligible to take two classes per semester for free. She also showed me where to search for employment opportunities. Thanks to her, I applied and got a full-time job at the Butler Library. Soon after, I was accepted into the General Studies program of the university from where I graduated with honors, summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa.

I would have never known about any of these opportunities without the help of so many people who steered me in the right direction. Local librarians know the needs of their patrons and can guide them to the information that might be most helpful in their specific situation and where to look for it.

The libraries in New York provided me with community—both as a patron and an employee—engendering a sense of belonging at a time at when I knew close to no one in the country and felt foreign nearly 24 hours a day. Libraries are the cornerstones of democracy, where all people—regardless of income, race and religion—are welcome. To me, they’re also the one place where I truly feel at home. ... c-library/
John Francis

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Location: Cleveland, Ohio

Re: Public libraries: more than just books

Post by jserraglio » Mon Jul 15, 2019 12:23 pm

Libraries rock and so do librarians. Where would I have been at age 8 without the kind librarians at Upson Elementary School Library, Euclid Ohio?


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Re: Public libraries: more than just books

Post by barney » Mon Jul 15, 2019 5:58 pm

Yes, me too. From a 10-year -old (in less parent safety-conscious times) I would take the cable car into the city most Friday evenings, visit the Wellington Public Library (an excellent library), with the special treat of buying a dill cucumber at the delicatessen on the way home (both new to Wellington at the time). The limit was 10 books, which I often filled - not sure in hindsight how I carried them all home. Must have been sturdier than now.

John F
Posts: 21076
Joined: Mon Mar 26, 2007 4:41 am
Location: Brooklyn, NY

Re: Public libraries: more than just books

Post by John F » Tue Jul 23, 2019 10:53 am

Your Local Library May Have A New Offering In Stock: A Resident Social Worker
July 17, 2019
Heard on All Things Considered
Colin Dwyer

Trish doesn't have many places to turn. She's living at her elderly father's home without a job because she can't afford the care he needs. And every day she says the balance sheet seems stained with more red ink. "It's all outgoing. There's nothing coming in, that's for sure. And I'm stuck in a rock and a hard place because of my credit, so I don't — I need to make enough money that I can afford to live somewhere," she says, voice quavering. "I am just really drained. I am," she hesitates half a beat, before finishing plaintively: "I am absolutely miserable. I want a job."

Across from her at the table, David Perez nods quietly and takes notes.

As difficult as her situation is, Trish — who asked that we just use her first name — is far from alone. Lots of social workers see cases such as hers come through their offices. What is unusual is where you'll find this office: the Long Branch Free Public Library in eastern New Jersey. Perez says he's the only social worker in the state employed permanently by a public library.

It's not exactly something he had planned on. A U.S. Army veteran who bounced from job to job after the service, before finally settling on the social work program at Monmouth University, he was surprised when his advisers suggested he intern at the local library. "That really threw me off," he laughs, in a separate conversation with NPR the same day as his meeting with Trish, "because I'm saying to myself, 'Um, my resume says military. It says health care business. This is a school of social work.' And then I'm being advised to go to the Long Branch public library. I just didn't get it."

He does now, though. "Anyone can come right in here, and you don't need to be of any class, you don't need money," he explains. "You can take advantage of all of the services that we offer." Those manifold services include teaching tech courses, giving career counseling, and caring for people experiencing homelessness. More than half a million people in the U.S. were without a home on a single night last year, according to federal estimates, and the rate of homelessness nationally has ticked upward the past two years.

Perez's library can even treat drug overdoses. It stocks two doses of Narcan, an anti-overdose drug, behind its circulation desk to deal with the effects of the opioid epidemic, much like thousands of public libraries across the U.S.

Libraries have always had far more on their plate than the stereotype of the silence-obsessed introvert who cares only for reordering the fiction section. Amanda Oliver confronted that disparity head-on after graduating with her library science degree. "I mean nothing — nothing! — I learned in my master's program did I put to use on a daily basis," the young librarian says.

She spent several years working with public schools in the Washington, D.C., area before getting a job at a downtown branch of the city's public library system. There, she says she saw drug deals in the aisles and overdoses in the bathrooms, had scary encounters with some patrons and generally felt unequipped to deal with the day-to-day realities of life as an urban librarian.

There was a panic button under the circulation desk, installed there to alert the police in case of trouble, and she says her colleagues pressed it during an altercation with a patron her first week at the branch. The patron left before the police arrived, she says, but it was her colleagues' reaction afterward that shocked her. "Everyone was completely unfazed on staff," she says. " And so it clicked in my brain: 'Oh, this is not uncommon.' " It wasn't and she eventually quit.

She wrote of her experiences in the Los Angeles Times, and she's planning to expand on those thoughts in a book. "None of this is to say that there weren't really wonderful moments and parts of the work that I absolutely love and value," she adds, "but the toll that it started to take on my mental health was just not worth it. There was no blueprint"

Libraries have been trying to ease this stress with training for staff or outside partnerships. Over the past decade, library science programs have also been steadily shifting their focus to teach more community outreach, according to Noah Lenstra, a professor at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. "Gone is the notion of the sleepy quiet library where all you hear is shush," he says. "I think it would be important to highlight that people are feeling put out by this, but I think it would also be important to highlight people that are really embracing and thriving in this new environment."

Still, he acknowledges, "of course some people won't have had these classes because they got their degrees 10 or even five years ago." So, these days some libraries across the country are trying the approach used in Long Branch, N.J., to support librarians tasked with social work for which they weren't formally trained: bring in a social worker who was formally trained for situations such as these.

The San Francisco Public Library is credited with being the first to do so, with Leah Esguerra back in 2009. "There was no blueprint," she recalls. "The public library is not a traditional setting for a social worker, so there was a lot of conversation at the start." And since she started, she says the position has evolved in "many ways I had never imagined." She has developed systems to connect patrons with mental health services, help them find jobs, get them legal support — and the San Francisco Public Library says she has helped find permanent housing for scores of people.

"I walk around and try to talk to people who might be experiencing homelessness. We never ask them directly, but I would just come up to them and say, 'I don't know if you're aware there's a social worker and there are social services here,' " she says. "Because of my role as a professional, clinical social worker, I can do assessments and determine if I need to provide extra support by linking them with community services such as clinics or mental health or for them to see a doctor."

About three dozen public libraries across the U.S. have followed San Francisco's lead in the decade since Esguerra was brought on, including those in Denver, Georgetown, Texas, and Perez's library in Long Branch, N.J. And that number only has only accelerated in recent years. "Using the word exponential is really not an exaggeration," says Sara Zettervall of Whole Person Librarianship, an organization dedicated to tracking such social work partnerships and instructing libraries on how to carry them out.

So many have expressed interest in pursuing this route, the Public Library Association started a task force meant to "develop and recommend a strategic and coordinated approach" for libraries trying to better address the social service needs of their patrons. Esguerra co-chairs the group, of which Perez is also a member.

Now, this approach isn't perfect. Oliver, for instance, says the D.C. public library system had a social worker when she was working there. But, according to her, one just wasn't enough to offer all of the support needed for the city's 28 branches. But Esguerra says the idea of bringing social workers into libraries isn't just meant to help librarians; it encourages people in need to take advantage of the services the library-based social workers offer. "Coming to the library is not attached to any stigma, unlike coming to, like, you know, other traditional settings," she explains. "So public libraries really are the best places to reach out to the population and be effective at it."

Back in Long Branch, N.J., David Perez is wrapping up his meeting with Trish. She's still got to get to the circulation desk to check out the usual stack of DVDs she picks up for her ailing father. But before she goes, Perez goes through his notes of their conversation. He confirms some calls to potential employers and offers a word of support. "Financially you were saying how everything is outgoing. But it's also emotionally — financially, emotionally, it's all going out and you need something to come back in," he says to her. "That's what I'm here for — to help in any way possible." He promises to call her in a day or two. "We're going to connect the dots. I have a laptop, I have a printer, I have a phone, a fax. I have coffee if you want some coffee," he adds, laughing. "And together we make it happen. That's what we're doing here." ... ial-worker
John Francis

Posts: 4183
Joined: Fri Aug 01, 2008 11:12 pm
Location: Melbourne, Australia

Re: Public libraries: more than just books

Post by barney » Wed Aug 28, 2019 5:37 pm

Now Melbourne is catching up, according to today's Age ... 52lp3.html

New chapter for the homeless as City Library hires social worker
Jewel Topsfield
August 28, 2019 — 7.45pm

Craig Farrell’s favourite spot in the City Library is a quiet corner near the comics. At night he sleeps on the footpath in Flinders Lane – “When I say sleep I mean lying down, it’s too cold to actually sleep” – and during the day he seeks refuge in the library.

Mr Farrell is not the only homeless person for whom the library is a sanctuary. “I see the same faces all the time,” he says.
Melbourne City Council has decided to hire a social worker for its libraries, in an Australian-first program to provide support services to the homeless.

More of Melbourne’s most vulnerable people are relying on libraries to access information, use free computers and wifi and “just find somewhere that is safe, warm and welcoming”, according to Lord Mayor Sally Capp.
“Our libraries are for everyone,” she says.

The librarians at City Library know Mr Farrell by name and don’t mind that he lost his library card. They waived his fine when his library books were stolen.

The guy who runs Journal Cafe in the library “is really nice and always helps me out”.

“They don’t judge me because I am homeless,” Mr Farrell says. “This is a place you are not going to get turned away.”

He churns through books: “I read a lot of Greek mythology and history, pretty much anything sci-fi, Terry Pratchett is my favourite author.”

But normally in the library he dozes off. “It’s so quiet and warm. This is one place where you won’t get harassed. They have security but they won’t kick you out. One of the rules is that you can fall asleep but you can’t lie down and spread out, snoring your head off.”

The social worker concept comes from similar programs in San Francisco and Denver in the USA.

When Leah Esguerra was appointed to San Francisco Public Library as a social worker in 2009, she recalls a colleague quipping “let me know if they need a social worker at the airport”. “It was so unusual,” she says.
More than 30 libraries across the United States have hired social workers.

In the past decade the San Francisco Public Library has also employed a team of health and safety associates – people with lived experience of homelessness, known as HASAs – to assist with outreach.

“When it’s appropriate they try to disclose their own experience to encourage people to get help,” Ms Esquerra says.

“The library staff have a better understanding of the issues that our patrons deal with such as mental health, poverty, substance use, homelessness, etc, as they interact and work side by side with [those] who have lived experience with the same issues.”

Mr Farrell welcomes the idea. He says most people who sleep rough are nocturnal, which makes it harder to access homeless services during the day.

“When you sleep outside you are not really sleeping. Even if it’s nice weather, it’s still dangerous. You get a lot of drunks throw stuff at you or kick you. A guy I knew who was sleeping in front of a 7/11 had boiling water poured over him … I have had beers poured on me.”

It would be nice to have someone in his corner, he says. Mr Farrell says he is on a list for housing, but because he does not have mental health problems, children or issues with substance abuse he is not prioritised.

Libraries have been Mr Farrell's safe place ever since his father took him and his sisters to one every Saturday. “I’d work here if they would hire me,” he says.

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