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Librarians facing new tasks say crisis isn't in the catalog

The Associated Press
August 9, 2019

A 2018 survey of librarians in Pennsylvania found many reported they already felt stressed from trying to answer questions from patrons about mental health and social services, even without handling acute emergencies in the library.

Meanwhile, some librarians, like Amanda Oliver, have begged in vain for more preparation. Oliver said she quit her public library job in Washington when she asked supervisors for more training and “was largely ignored.”

District of Columbia Public Library Executive Director Richard Reyes-Gavilan says Oliver’s branch offered at least two trainings related to mental health during her tenure, but the library is also “committed to doing even more” to support staff.


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Your Local Library May Have A New Offering In Stock: A Resident Social Worker

NPR: All Things Considered
July 17, 2019

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"I mean nothing — nothing! — I learned in my master's program did I put to use on a daily basis," Oliver says.

There was a panic button under the circulation desk, installed there to alert the police in case of trouble, and she says her colleagues pressed it during an altercation with a patron her first week at the branch. The patron left before the police arrived, she says, but it was her colleagues' reaction afterward that shocked her.

"Everyone was completely unfazed on staff," she says. " And so it clicked in my brain: 'Oh, this is not uncommon.' "

It wasn't and she eventually quit. She wrote of her experiences in the Los Angeles Times, and she's planning to expand on those thoughts in a book.

"None of this is to say that there weren't really wonderful moments and parts of the work that I absolutely love and value," she adds, "but the toll that it started to take on my mental health was just not worth it."


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Other Duties as Assigned

American Library Magazine
January/February 2019

Print & Online

“I switched to a public library in D.C. Ninety percent of the patrons we saw on a daily basis were experiencing homelessness, addiction, and severe mental health issues. There was not a day that I did not witness a psychotic episode. I called 911 once a week. People say, “Other branches aren’t that bad,” and I’m not interested, because if one branch is like that, your system is failing, as far as I’m concerned. Every day I’d go: “I think I’ll have PTSD from this job.”

About a month before I left, I got my third manager in the eight months I was there. She told the library, “I’m not taking this job unless there’s a full-time police officer.” Once we got that officer, I realized one day, “I haven’t been screamed at in a week.” But I have a lot of issues with police in general, so I don’t believe that should be a solution. Is that what we have to resort to in order to keep order? I want to believe “no,” but it’s hard, because I did see a huge difference.

The funny thing is, I loved being a librarian. I loved providing a service to underserved people who deserve a leg up in the world. But there’s no possible way to do it long-term the way that I was. When I thought about what being a librarian would look like for me five or 10 years down the road, I was sick.”


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Long Live the Library

The American Scholar, Smarty Pants Podcast
Episode #62
August 2018

“To bust the myth that libraries could ever be replaced by a for-profit enterprise, we hit the stacks ourselves and spoke to librarian Amanda Oliver about the services that libraries don’t get enough credit for.”