May 24, 2017

One Philadelphia library deals with the ravages of the opioid epidemic


Philadelphia’s McPherson Square Library.

As we’ve previously discussed on MobyLives, libraries across the country seem to be expanding their services to patrons who are most in need. In the past couple of years, libraries in Minneapolis, Denver, and several other cities have brought on social workers to help connect people struggling with homelessness, mental illness, and drug addiction with resources to get them on their feet, while countless other libraries are addressing the same demands without additional staff.

Nowhere is the urgency and challenging nature of this work more apparent than at the McPherson Square Library in Kensington, Philadelphia, a neighborhood that has been hit hard by the opioid epidemic. As the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Mike Newall reports, the library recently trained its staff in procedures for dealing with drug overdoses on its premises. According to branch manager Judi Moore, in just the past year, the opioid epidemic has “ravaged” the neighborhood, leading to an alarming number of people using—and sometimes overdosing on—drugs in the library and the surrounding park. Staffers have done their best, instituting new security measures and bathroom monitoring, and arming librarians with the anti-overdose medication Narcan. One librarian, Chera Kowalski, has already administered it to four people.

Meanwhile, the library, which has “the highest programming-attendance rate of any city branch” in Philadelphia, continues to be an essential space for neighborhood children, providing after-school lunches and arts, STEM programming, and computers for those who don’t have them at home. Like the staff at the Denver Public Library, which has also reported a surge in drug overdoses, McPherson Square employees have found themselves having to balance traditional library work with social and emergency services.

While the Trump administration proposes slashing federal funding for a number of drug-prevention initiatives, including the Drug-Free Communities Support Program, and the Republican health bill cuts funding for addiction treatment, librarians in cities are busy doing all they can to help, however small their resources.



Kait Howard was a publicist at Melville House.