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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4 responses to “Is This Your 21st Century ‘Library?’

  1. Thank you.

    I think you hit the nail on the head here- libraries, whilst they might be community resources, are meant specifically as information resources not as a place for general community services. I am not American even, but British, however this sort of thing seems to apply in my own country- my local council seems to have done everything from moving general council services into the main town library, to holding yoga classes, kids activities and other events which seem to have nothing to do with literature or the provision of information. In some places the opposite approach takes place- the library is just a small part of a wider community centre or other facility. Maybe this approach is more honest, and is probably the way things will end up going. Maybe I am a bit old-fashioned for my years (27) but sometimes I want a stand-alone library which is mostly if not entirely focussed on books… (I speak as a library user, not a librarian).

    On the other hand I suppose the library is perhaps the most welcoming and accessible public space, and perhaps people will want to go into a librarymore readily than they would anywhere else. And, I suppose, in these economic times, moving things into shared facilities are sometimes more economical.

    • I think it is the responsibility of the library director to explain to their community leaders the “appropriate” capabilities of a library, and the role appropriate for those capabilities. Unfortunately, if the community wants a library to be less of a library and more of something else, they have that perogative. A valid argument in favor of the “appropriate” role is that once the library becomes less of a library and more something else, it begins to lose its identity as a library and soon may be transformed into something else and not a library, which will mean the community no longer has a library at all. Too many leaders have no foresight or systems thinking anymore. Excessive short-sightedness makes for bad decisions.
      Thanks again for your observations. Hang in.

  2. Keith Folk

    I am finishing up my first semester toward my Library Technical Assistant Certification at Joliet Junior College in Joliet, Illinois. Last May I was given the opportunity of working in the Digital Media Studio as an intern at the Joliet Public Library. Once in the studio I felt like I was at home. This is due to my 15 years at Comcast Spotlight as a Graphic Designer – Video Editor – Motion Graphic Designer. My product was every imaginable request from clients and co-workers, but, mostly the bulk of it was creating :30 seconds commercial spots for cable networks. That aside…

    My interests in “The Library of the Future” is on everyone’s mind. Though I did not expect a library / public medical clinic or DMV.

    In class we discussed everything about the library’s new roles, from a place of solitude to a community center, from shelves of books to new digital media. But I do believe it must be a place for people and ideas to cultivated.
    Now, I am talking as a newbie here seeing the workings of the library from the inside.

    Most of the comments here are from veteran librarian staff who have experienced the growing technology and working under old management ideas. Complicated more by the trend of less library funding and re-examining the library’s purpose.

    I am coming from the corporate world where profit is king and the senior management decision making motto is, “Don’t Think… Act!”

    So I appreciate this site and look forward to any comments or suggestions as they are posted. Thank you!

    • My pleasure Keith, and thank you for your comments. It’s always enlightening to hear from people with non-traditional backgrounds who are interested in librarianship, because it expands the field of knowledge and brings new 21st Century ideas. Stay involved.

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