Mental Illness and Homelessness in Public Libraries

I was just catching up on some professional reading and came across a couple of articles in Public Libraries that are so relevant in these difficult times.  Unfortunately, the 2009 issues aren’t freely available online, but track down a copy of the March/April 2009 issue and see the appendix to the article by Torrey, Esposito and Geller on page 51 – Suggestions for Dealing with Problematic Mentally Ill Individuals

The mentally ill have long been some of the most frequent patrons of public libraries.  While the majority don’t present big problems, a small percentage may scare or intimidate library staff.  The authors of Problems Associated with Mentally Ill Individuals in Public Libraries have put together a comprehensive check list of best practices for serving and helping these people and keeping staff safe.  They advise that library staff should be aware of these patrons and alerted when they are in the building, but they also suggest educating the staff on interacting with them (also consider making one staffer a specialist at this), having and enforcing rules, having a plan in case of a crisis and that you under react when dealing with them.  Not to be alarmist, but they also say we shouldn’t underestimate the potential for danger.  All good advice, not just for the mentally ill customer, but for handling any problematic patrons.

But we are librarians, so we also have a list of local resources to give out if they ask for assistance.  Greensboro Public Library (SC) goes one better and has a Winter Series of helpful programs for the homeless (Public Libraries May/June 2009 p. 15).  What a great idea and it would work well not just for the homeless but for all the people who are struggling after losing their jobs, savings and homes.  Have a forum with representatives of all your local social service agencies so people can find out what options are open to them and where they can get much needed help. 

Have any of you tried this yet?  Which aid organizations were there?  What did attendees find most helpful?

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