Thursday, August 24, 2017

Thoughts on recent events

I started this blog at the end of 2013 because so many people were curious about how we were going about organizing the first cluster for the Free Library of Philadelphia.  Three plus years later, all nine clusters are up and running successfully.  There are some elements of each of the other eight clusters that closely resemble those in North Philadelphia and some elements that are unique to those individual clusters.  That is how it should be.  That is why these smaller service areas were created.

Lately, there has been an incredible amount of curiosity about why and how we came to have librarians and other staff in the North Philadelphia Neighborhood Libraries Cluster that are trained in the use of Narcan (the opioid overdose reversal nasal spray).  I am going to try to address many of the questions I've had posed to me by Free Library staff, people from other libraries, the press, friends, and family. I apologize in advance if this gets long.

1. Why did we do it?  The East Kensington part of Philadelphia has been a mecca for drug dealers/users for decades cycling through whichever drug was popular at the time.  Longtime residents recall seeing fancy cars lined up for blocks in order to score cocaine for their next party.

Heroin use in the neighborhood had been growing exponentially over the last several years.  In the spring and summer of 2016, use in and around the library had become epidemic.  Library staff were sending emails to the police, city council, and library administration begging for help with little or no response.  It was becoming unsafe for the children of the neighborhood to walk through the park to get to the library. The Free Library took two very effective actions. They provided the library with a bathroom monitor who was hired and trained by Project Home, and we were allocated an extra part-time security guard who could patrol outside while our regular security kept an eye on the inside of the library.

Judi Moore, the branch head, had already instituted an organized over-dose drill, which they have had to put into use.

We began to educate ourselves with presentations from Prevention Point Philadelphia, and by doing our own research about the scope of the epidemic as well as the use and effects of Narcan. We determined two factors that would, in our minds, make it allowable for staff to be trained.  1. Narcan is available as a nasal spray. 2. You can do no harm with it.  Even if the person is not over-dosing, Narcan will not hurt them.

At the beginning of 2017, with prospect of another season of warm weather, and not much in the way of tangible progress being made by the city, we started looking at what we could do.  The library staff was strongly asking to be allowed to be trained, and to use Narcan.

2.  First steps. I checked with FLP's administration about getting permission.  Everyone agreed it was necessary, but wanted to have it cleared by the city's legal department, and they wanted a formal policy.  I felt we could not wait.  It would be more detrimental to the staff if someone died from an overdose in or near the library while we were waiting for permission to have the training.

At this point, I decided it was necessary to go ahead and take the risk by arranging the Narcan training with Prevention Point.  I announced it verbally at a cluster meeting.  It was completely voluntary.  I placed no requirements or restrictions on attendance.  The training began before the official start time of a work day. Twenty-eight staff members showed up from five different libraries.

3. Then this happened. Almost immediately afterwards, Chera, the Adult/Teen Librarian, at McPherson was called on to administer the Narcan to someone outside.  (We have had no incidents inside the library since the installation of the bathroom monitors.)  Again and again this happened.

Somehow the word got out, and we met Mike Newall from the Philadelphia Inquirer.  We thought he was coming to interview us about the 100th Anniversary celebration of the branch which was occurring the next week. Apparently, we were wrong.  His column appeared on May 21, and things began to happen.

It could be a happy coincidence, or because of the coverage, but the Mayor's Opioid Task Force finally moved from the talking to the action phase.  Police, cleanups, and supports were all put in place.  Mike's continued coverage has helped to shine a very bright light on the situation in Kensington.  Chera is a local hero, and has now been featured in many stories in print, and on TV. The requests for interviews are still coming in.

If you have any other questions, feel free to put them in the comments.

Thank you for reading this far.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Making a difference in North Philly - one librarian's efforts

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A bit of background for those not in Philadelphia.  The library above is McPherson Square Library, which is in East Kensington, which is in the epi-center of the heroin epidemic.  

Every year, I ask each of my library managers to fill out a self-reflection questionnaire in preparation for their annual reviews. Below are excerpts from the reflections of Judi Moore, the manager of McPherson Square. When I initially read Judi's comments, I was reminded why it is we do this work.  It was rejuvenating. I've removed some names and added others.  I also removed comments not related to this particular topic.  Comments in parentheses are mine. I've added links to appropriate articles or information where possible.

Describe any new goals, responsibilities, or added challenges you have taken on in 2016
The opioid crisis added new challenges for all of us, particularly with the users in the bathroom. I had to learn a lot about heroin and the behavior of the users.  I’ve been reading a lot and watching documentaries.  I know more about heroin than I ever expected to know.
I agreed to serve on the SAC committee for Willard Elementary School.  This is a school and community liaison group. 
I agreed to try to help Willard School fill the gap of not having a librarian.  I go over to their library to do story programs for their classes.  They did ask me to come over to the school “two or three days a week to run the library as an auxiliary of your library.”  In other words, they wanted me to be their librarian. Obviously, I can’t spend half my time at their school, but you can’t blame them for trying. (Philadelphia School District has a total of eight librarians in their schools.)
Identify what you like most about your job.
I like working with the people in the community, both children and adults.  Even though this neighborhood has a lot of challenges for the residents, I enjoy working in this sort of community.  There is a sense of a real neighborhood and family as we watch children growing up.  Many who have succeeded and moved on to “better” neighborhoods come back to visit with their children.  I like that I have patrons here whom I have known for many years, and that I know many members of their extended families.  I enjoy working with the staff at Impact Services to help make the park a better place.  And, this year we have developed our relationship with Jose Benitez and Elvis Rosado at Prevention Point.  I love that we do the afterschool lunch program provided by the USDA, and the way that MPS staff and other FLP staff help Maria and her cousin feed the homeless.  I love our children.  They are, in many ways, unspoiled and excited to do almost any kind of craft or other project we suggest.  We have our regulars who come in every day, for their daily dose of attention, so we really get to know them and get attached to them.  It is so sweet to just have the time to talk to little people. (McPherson has a regular crowd of 40 - 55 children to come almost every day after school)
I am still a book person at heart.  I enjoy being around books.  I love that I have three ladies who come sit at my desk to chat about new books, classic books, favorite authors, etc.  I have one woman who is joining me in a challenge to read, or at least try, the books on a list of classics we found.  The FLP’s electronic resources excite me.  I love to tell patrons about Hoopla, Zinio, and Overdrive; and to show them how to access those resources.

What are your most significant accomplishments and contributions in 2016.

What accomplishment and achievements are you the proudest of?
I am proud of the way that we have taken on the drug crisis.  (The location talked about in this article is just a few blocks away from the library.  The park surrounding the library is also a very popular spot for drug users.  Over 800 needles were collected in a one month period in late 2016.) With the support of Lynn Williamson, Jose and Elvis, and yourself, we came up with a plan that is working well for the bathroom.  I am proud of the logbook and procedures implemented to help us identify problem patrons.  (There have been numerous overdoses in the public bathroom at the library in the last year.  First they began requiring ID's to use the bathroom.  Then, they added a five minute time limit, which was very hard for the existing staff to monitor.  They now have two part-time bathroom attendants who collect the id, keep the logbook [this has really helped in the case of OD], and set the timer.  The attendants are provided through a partnership with Project Home.)
It took a while and lots of persuasion, but we are now seeing more police in the park and in the library.

What work are you performing that is outside the scope of your current job description?

I am giving out lunches when Maria is absent, and doing the associated weekly paperwork for the lunch program. 
I helped a graduate student from Jefferson hospital find senior citizen contacts in the neighborhood for a project she was doing.  This turned out to be more involved than I anticipated.  However, she rewarded us with medical toys, which the children have adored.  I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had my ears checked and my blood pressure taken.
I worked with a Cub Scout troop to distribute hats, gloves, and scarves to the neighborhood children.
What job-related goals would you like to accomplish in 2017?
Help our children and adults bridge the technology gap.  Our patrons are still not as tech savvy as they should be in the 21st century.  They know how to play games, but they don’t know how to research, use Word to finish school assignments, download ebooks, etc.