Daily Archives: October 26, 2012

Is This Your 21st Century ‘Library?’

When I came across this article, I was at first shocked, then bewildered, then resigned. Is this what your 21st Century Library has evolved into? Library nurses look after those in need

A slight man with a stethoscope and black medical bag regularly walks through Tucson’s downtown public library, helping patrons with issues that have nothing to do with books.

Daniel Lopez is not a librarian, but one of the nation’s first library nurses. He checks the feet of diabetics, takes blood pressure, gives out condoms and intervenes in medical emergencies.

Lopez is Pima County’s novel answer to a common issue in public libraries across the country – a growing number of patrons living without shelter, health insurance, medical care or computer access. They come to the library looking not only for resources, but also for safety and protection from the elements. The shaky economy and high unemployment have further fueled the need.

In response, some urban libraries have hired child psychologists, social workers and language teachers. Others bring in teachers to help kids with homework. No other public library system in the country is known to employ nurses, says the nation’s largest library association.

My shock was because that library had been transformed into a free clinic. Doesn’t that city have any of those somewhere else? And what is a “library nurse?” Someone who helps an ailing library heal? Apparently not!

My bewilderment was why someone, some public agency decided THAT was THE best solution to their homeless problem.

My resignation was the realization that the Library is a city agency as well, and a city can decide what it wants its library to be. In spite of what a “library” is intended to be.

Isn’t there an appropriate time and place for everything? Is the library really the place to provide free medical care? It is well known that homeless people like to sue libraries for a multitude of reasons regarding violations of their rights. How long before someone sues the library because their right to medical privacy has been violated? AND, if the nurse is employed by the library, what library resources were diverted to pay for that? Collection? Programming? Librarian salaries?

What does your 21st Century Library look like? Maybe we should have DMV offices in the library to make them less dreaded. The DMV that is, but when the library no longer functions as a library maybe they will become dreaded too.

Is this really the extreme to which a library has to resort in order to be relevant to its community?

Apparently so, and with the blessing – nay encouragement – of PLA Past President Marcia Warner. “The national association encourages libraries to create programs for homeless and other disadvantaged patrons because public libraries are about equal access to information for everyone, Warner said.”

I have not read a stretch that far since Rice Krispies were linked to cancer. Creating medical care programs especially for homeless people is necessary for them to have equal access to information? SERIOUSLY? Just walking in the door and asking a librarian for assistance TO INFORMATION isn’t adequate? Anyone who needs assistance accessing information can do that – regardless of their residential status.

Seems to me there is a lot more in this situation than meets the eye, but that is for the citizens of Joel D. Valdez Main Library in downtown Tucson to deal with.


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