Libraries Are Embracing Their Newfound Role As Mental Health Ambassadors

There's a lot more going on than just checking out books. Libraries Are Embracing Their Newfound Role As Mental Health Ambassadors Giphy

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In the age of smartphones, libraries might seem anachronistic. But as society deals with some serious mental health-related crises, there’s a new role that librarians now find themselves filling.

Prepared for anything

Michael Bare took on his role as a library assistant four years ago in a West Virginia city near the borders of Ohio and Kentucky. While he envisioned helping patrons find books or use some of the library’s services, he said that much of his time is spent helping individuals in various states of distress.

And he’s far from alone. One recent survey determined that 2 out of every 3 workers at nearly 600 libraries have witnessed individuals displaying violence or aggression.

Why is it so common for people in crisis to find their way into a library? One major reason, according to experts, is that they often have no other options. Few public places provide such easy access, and it only makes sense that people looking for a refuge will take advantage of that space.

A mixed bag

While many library workers are eager to provide whatever type of help they can to people who come in, the situations can often become dangerous or overwhelming. While many of these folks are just looking for a warm place to rest or a restroom to use, some are carrying weapons, watching pornography, or otherwise behaving in an unacceptable manner.

And Kevin King of the Kalamazoo Public Library expressed the dichotomy that many in his industry now experience.

“They don’t have anywhere else to go, and they don’t trust other places,” he said. “I love being that place, but after a while it’s taxing and wearing on you.”

A growing number of jurisdictions have acknowledged the trend and are hiring trained social workers to address these complex and difficult situations.

Chris Agee
Chris Agee October 24th, 2023
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