Report: “Colorado Librarians are Now Front-Line Crisis Workers, Managing Homeless Patrons, Mental Illness, Book-Banners”
Walk into one of metro Denver’s public libraries — among the few spaces where anyone can come inside and exist for free — and you’ll find a microcosm of society’s most pressing issues:
- Homelessness in Denver is at a peak, evidenced by the dozens of patrons in the city’s Central Library during a recent visit who were toting their possessions in trash bags and suitcases.
- Colorado doesn’t have enough mental health professionals, as illustrated by the hundreds of welfare checks a year by Denver police officers and medics across the city’s library branches.
- Local food banks are scrambling to keep up with demand, so when a patron at the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library told workers during a recent visit that he was hungry and thirsty, an employee handed the young man a granola bar and bottle of water.
- And as Colorado contends with deadly substance-use crises, libraries in Boulder and three Denver suburbs closed temporarily in 2022 and 2023 after meth users contaminated their bathrooms.
If public libraries act as an epicenter for society’s shortfalls, then their librarians are on the front lines of crisis intervention, tending to their communities’ most vulnerable populations while trying to keep their buildings safe and welcoming to all amid rising legislative attacks on intellectual freedoms across the nation.
The Denver Post interviewed longtime and up-and-coming Colorado librarians, as well as the educators who mold them, to learn how librarians are trained to manage a workload that goes far beyond bookkeeping. These librarians said they want to shed the stereotype of pedantic conversation-shushers and highlight the realities of librarianship at a moment when their buildings are more than ever a haven for people who slipped through their communities’ cracks.
Krystyna Matusiak, chair of the University of Denver’s Library and Information Science program, agreed that librarianship has evolved to emphasize services over materials.
In an ever-changing industry, Matusiak said DU’s library master’s program is always responding to the realities of the job.
“We are seeing a surge of challenges to intellectual freedom, and the concern in library and information science programs is how do we prepare our graduates to deal with that in practice,” Matusiak said.
About Gary Price
Gary Price (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. He earned his MLIS degree from Wayne State University in Detroit. Price has won several awards including the SLA Innovations in Technology Award and Alumnus of the Year from the Wayne St. University Library and Information Science Program. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com.