Libraries have always been known for the information resources they provide; however, for some, they provide much more, and even serve as lifelines. A recent survey conducted by the Multnomah County Library in Portland, Oregon affords insight into the ways in which people rely on public libraries during times of hardship. The survey – administered at two separate locations, on different days, to entering patrons – received more than 1,000 responses. Of those patrons who completed the survey, nearly 1 in 5 were homeless. Some key findings included:
- About half of the respondents visited the library to use the computers; of these, 26% were homeless.
- About 1 in 5 respondents using computers were doing so for job-related purposes; of these, 44% were homeless.
- More than 1 in 10 respondents intended to search for essential services online, such as those related to finding housing, jobs, or counseling for mental health, substance abuse, or domestic violence; of these, 44% were homeless.
In response to the survey results, Multnomah County Library created a plan to improve its services for patrons coping with hardships like homelessness and mental illness. Within six to twelve months, the Library will designate and train certain employees to serve as Persons In Charge (PICs), who will be responsible for knowing about essential county- and independently-offered services, in order to “facilitate better referrals to patrons.” Within this timeframe, the Library also hopes to have all PICs complete an eight-hour Mental Health First Aid course. At 12 months, the Library will collaborate with the Department of Human Services to develop a training course for other, non-PIC employees likely to interact with patrons in need.
Though impressive, Multnomah’s efforts are just some of the many ways in which public libraries help those in need. How does your library reach out? How can it improve its efforts? Do you know of a particular public library that deserves recognition in this area? Let us know by chatting with us on Twitter.
Note: This post is part of our series, “The Weekly Number.” In this series, we highlight statistics that help tell the story of the 21st century library.