In the News: Above and Beyond

Last week, I read a CNN story about a young librarian who has saved six people from drug overdoses. I can guarantee you that this woman did not get her master's degree to do this. She did not learn in school how to save dying people with Narcan. She did not know that her job would entail checking bathrooms to make sure no one was shooting up. She did not know that people would look to her to save people slumped over and turning blue on benches outside of her library building. She did not get the training needed to handle emotional aftermath.

She, like thousands of other librarians, never expected to or were trained to handle these situations... but they do it anyway.

So often librarians are seen as shushers and book pushers. Instead, they are often social workers, counselors, and medics. Libraries and librarians are pillars of their community and people look to us to fulfill needs as they arise. Libraries are open to everyone from the soccer mom and small business owner to the homeless who come in every day seeking access to social services and a safe place to spend their day. Libraries are central hubs of activity because they allow access for all to books, magazines, the internet, and tools to help people grow.

Libraries seek to help people find what they need and, because of that, librarians often go above and beyond their written job duties to fulfill those requests. This includes reviving overdosed drug users, handling vocal and physical disputes among their users, and acting as counselors to children and teens who are dropped off my parents heading to work. As community budgets are cut, libraries often remain the last bastion of service. Librarians end up connecting their users with government services like TANF and SNAP. They serve as social workers and connect those with mental illness to services that can with counseling and treatment. They connect the homeless to groups that can provide temporary or permanent shelter. And, despite policies saying otherwise, they end up being daycare services for children who have no place else to go.

The interactions can be highly emotional and most librarians come to these situations untrained in these areas. Some patrons can become agitated and abusive. I don't know of a single librarian who has not been yelled at by a patron. You're there to help and when you can't, no matter how are you try, the responses you get can be upsetting. Some patrons accept your answer and go away, head hanging. Others yell and scream at you in their frustration. Some people become violent. And, at the end of the day, when you go home, their emotions can stay with you.

But there are high points as well. Some children spend all day in the library because that is their only option. These kids have a world of information at their fingers and many show their appreciation through smiles, thank you notes, and small presents. They read piles of books and participate in story-time or craft classes. They take coding sessions offered in the computer lab or build robots in the Makerspace. And, they leave the day smiling and waving goodbye.

Recent immigrants can use the library to find ESL classes or other programs to help them learn about American culture. I shadowed a reference desk once where a recent immigrant from Africa asked how she should could become a licensed mid-wife. She had delivered babies in her home country of Ghana and wanted to continue her work in her new home. The librarian I was shadowing was able to connect her to a program run through a local medical school. She left the desk with a stack of information beaming at the prospect that she could find her future here.

These positive interactions are what the majority of people think about. They don't think about librarians having to clean up bodily fluids in the bathroom or stacks. They don't think about the homeless trying to hide in a back room so they can spend the night indoors. They don't think about all the manner of things that find their way in to the book drops (dirty needles, trash, and weapons among included).  They don't think about librarians comforting sobbing college students during finals week. They don't think about librarians providing a safe space and information for the gay middle school student from a conservative household.

Everyone in the community can use the library. That means librarians encounter all the kinds of people that live in that community. The good and the bad. The well-off and the needy.

As a librarian, you help the person in front of you. You help every individual with the information and service they require no matter who they are. It just so happens that when the economy takes a downturn and community needs are great, those needs can be heartbreaking.

But librarians don't turn people away. They help in whatever way they can.

They go above and beyond.