The Organic Role of Libraries as Centers of Inclusiveness and Support (nonprofitquarterly.org)

People may check out fewer books from libraries than they used to, but libraries have continued to grow as their role as community hubs deepens. Here at NPQ, we have profiled libraries that have become maker spaces, supported gardening, and rented out musical instruments. In some cities, librarians have been trained to administer Narcan to interrupt opioid overdoses. In Ferguson and in Baltimore, as those cities were in a state of unrest after the killings of Michael Brown and Freddie Gray, respectively, the libraries served as sanctuaries, remaining open to the community. They have, in some cases, even been affordable housing partners.

Yet another growing role, Emily Nonko reports in Next City, is in social service provision. Nonko notes that up to 30 libraries nationally, including in places like Chicago, Brooklyn, Denver, San Francisco, and Washington DC, have social workers on staff. A Chicago Tribune article last year mentioned  that Justine Janis, a clinical social worker at the Chicago library, was leading a national monthly conference call of social service workers on library staff.

Certainly, anything that increases social supports is likely to improve public health. As the Brookings Institution and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation have argued, the US underspends on social supports (and overspends on clinical care). In the American Journal of Managed Care, Ara Ohanian notes that, “On average, OECD [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development] nations spend $1.70 on social services for every $1 on health services; whereas the US spends just 56 cents.” Effectively, US peer nations spend 70 percent more on social care than healthcare, while the US spends 56 percent less on social care than healthcare, with social care dollars leading to more favorable health outcomes. Even within the US, Elizabeth Bradley and Lauren Taylor, writing for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, find that, “a 20 percent [increase] in the median social-to-health spending ratio was equivalent to 85,000 fewer adults with obesity. 

To read more of Steve Dubb's article, please click here.

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