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Librarians doing more than checking out books

Posted at 6:02 PM, Oct 30, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-30 18:02:42-04

Despite a brief warmup Tuesday, the fall chill and deep freeze of winter are on the horizon, which means some of the cities most vulnerable will need to find a warm, safe place and, they're finding it in a place that traditionally houses books.

“It’s sort of a jack of all trades when you come in you have to kind of juggle what the community needs,” said John Skrtic, Director of Public Services for the Cleveland Public Library.

He’s referring to the evolution of librarians, who are changing to better serve the community.

“That's sort of the nature of what we do here has changed over the years,” Skrtic said.

in cities like Denver, Chicago New York, and Washington D.C., libraries are hiring social workers to find placement and housing for the homeless, but here in Cleveland things haven’t evolved to that extent just yet.

“The library doesn’t have social workers per say that come, that are hired from the library,” said Skrtic.

The librarians are doing similar work. They are collaborating with agencies, handing out something called Street Cards, listing resources for housing, food and work for people to take advantage of.

“We just kind of want to make sure that we’re taking care of the segments of our population that are the most needy,” Skrtic said.

Librarians like Angela Guinther, Branch Manager at the Carnegie West Branch, are also trained specifically to handle mental health.

“Sometimes you can run into a situation where someone needs some help, and you need to be able to recognize that,” she said.

There are even signs on the front door and throughout the library, labeled “safe place.”

“Feeling safe is a big thing for the community,” Skrtic said.

He said it’s an important message to communicate every day, but especially in the winter, when they can be packed to capacity.

“There can be 60, 70, 80 people in here sometimes, but just strive to offer a calm. orderly, welcoming environment to everybody,” Guinther said.

The street cards can be found at any of the 27 Cleveland Public Library branches.

Librarians can also do a one-on-one reference interview to see exactly what that individual’s needs are and point them in the right direction.