Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Crime and Drugs @ Your Library

Sometimes I wonder whether people considering library school read the news about public libraries and decide they’d rather do anything else in life, because it’s pretty bleak these days, and that’s if you ignore budget problems.

It doesn’t seem to matter which part of the country you look at, although urban versus rural might make a difference. In urban areas these days, it’s drugs and crime, whether you’re in Philadelphia or Denver, which of course is also struggling with a homelessness crisis.

It’s pretty bleak stuff, too. In Philly overdoses and Narcan use are so common in the library that “They have been using the spray so often that they can tell the type of overdose simply by the sound coming from the lavatory: Heroin victims slide sluggishly into unconsciousness, the librarians have found, while victims of deadly fentanyl collapse instantly, with a thud that resonates through the entire building.”

At one point a librarian runs out into the park to administer Narcan.

That’s almost certainly the kind of thing you won’t learn in library school, and probably wouldn’t want to.

The problem in Philadelphia is “drug tourists,” which is apparently a thing. “Young people traveling from across the country for Philly’s pure heroin and the high said to be better than anywhere else.” Good grief.

And with “drug tourists” comes needles, which the children now have to avoid in the park. I guess the librarians do, too.

In Denver it might be worse. According to the news story, the “city’s main library has become a centralized hub for crime and drug abuse, resulting in significant spikes in emergency calls for overdoses, fights and sexual assaults.”

To get the story, a reporter “spent three days undercover at the library where he used a camera to document people injecting heroin and conducting drug deals in and around the library.” Pretty depressing stuff.

It makes one long for the trivial days when creepy men viewing internet porn on computers in the adult area of the library was the worst thing people had to complain about.

One brave librarian asked to be assigned to the library in the “drug-stricken neighborhood” because of personal concerns, but that’s probably not the norm.

Based on the library school dean’s response to dealing with the homeless discussed in my last post, what’s the next step? Should library schools start to provide training for dealing with drug overdoses, fights, and sexual assaults?

The sad thing is there’s no reason why not. The ALA propaganda machine loves articles about how librarians aren’t shushing stereotypes anymore, and libraries aren’t dusty warehouses for old books or whatever.

But the new model librarian busting those tired old stereotypes is supposed to be the tattooed hipster with purple hair that is supposedly all the rage in libraries these days, not harried looking librarians stepping over needles and learning to distinguish types of overdose by the sound overdosing drug users make at a distance.

In the fun world of “this is what a librarian looks like,” that’s never what a librarian looks like.

What’s left is the reality that in some areas, life as a public librarian is a lot less librarian than most librarians hope for.


Please note that new comments for all posts on this blog have been closed.


  1. I think the problem is applicable to American society as a whole, as opioid addiction is a nationwide epidemic. Addition and overdose rates are higher than they have ever been in the entire history of the United States, so naturally every single sector of commerce is going to see an increase in drug addicted individuals. Since public libraries serve the public and a lot of the public is addicted to drugs, there will be drug addicts inside public libraries. Unfortunately, those who enter other professional fields will still have to deal with heroin addicts. Addicts are normal people who visit libraries, stores, parks, mechanics, schools, restaurants, or medical institutions. They aren’t always homeless though I have seen several public libraries with needle disposal boxes in their public bathrooms (ex. Madison Public Library, Wisconsin).

    In this day and age, it is sort of irresponsible to remain ignorant on administering naloxone. The training is free, many places offer naloxone for free, and it is not hard at all. Seriously, the Narcan I have has a speaker which talks you through administering it so the only skills needed is English language comprehension and the ability to follow directions. It is a matter of public health just the same as CPR training, Heimlich maneuver training, or knowing how to operate a fire extinguisher. Library schools shouldn’t have to teach these skills. Libraries should teach their employees, like they do with fire drills, active shooter drills, tornado drills, CPR training, AED defibrillator training, or fire extinguisher training.

    If you have unfettered access to naloxone and still refuse to learn how to use it, a human being could die on your watch. If you have the ability to save someone’s life, you probably should do it. It is also entirely possible that an addict has never used drugs within the library but can still overdose within the library. Pills take time to dissolve in the stomach and an overdose could happen hours after pills were taken. It’s not always the dramatic slumped over junkie in a bathroom with a needle still in their arm. What is really scary is that there is heroin out there that is laced with acrylfentanyl, which means naloxone does not work, or requires 4+ doses to bring someone back to life. In my experience with naloxone, there are only 2 doses in a package.

    The foster care system is completely overloaded with opioid-related children, including heroin addicted infants (female addicts seldom quit for pregnancy so addiction is forced on the fetus due to the placenta) or orphans whose parents have fatally overdosed. I’m a youth librarian and in the past year there have been so many DCFS-supervised visits between parent and child in the department. The parent may be homeless or living in an inpatient rehab program or halfway house, which is not an appropriate venue for children. It’s either the public library youth department or like…Panera Bread/Starbucks/McDonalds, which would not be fun for a child after 30 minutes have passed. We have even had supervised visits conducted outside in the grass areas of the parking lot when the library is closed for a staff in-service because they literally have nowhere else to go.

    For reference: I am at a suburban public library that serves a predominantly white, upper middle class community of 40,000 that is geographically located 50 miles northwest of Chicago. It is not a collar-county of Chicago and does not parallel I-290 (also known as the heroin highway to locals). I say suburban but really a 10 minute drive will land you in farming communities so it’s on the rural side of suburban. The local newspaper’s website has added a “Heroin Crisis” category to the local news section and I would estimate there are police drug busts on a weekly basis.

  2. librarEwoman says:

    The public library in which I work has a pretty serious problem with people abusing and dealing drugs on library property. We’re not even what I’d call “urban,” but rather a mid-sized city in the Midwest. In addition to heroin and other opiates, methamphetamine is still a huge problem in our area. My biggest concern right now: Fentanyl can actually be absorbed through the skin, if you come into contact with residue on any surface. Enough of it can be absorbed this way that it can actually cause overdose within a matter of minutes, just by unknowingly touching it with your skin. Scary stuff, considering the odd residues we find on many of the library materials as we’re checking them in.

  3. In Africa libraries are mostly concerned with fighting illiteracy, poverty, nepotism and tribalism. Libraries in slum areas play a significant role in fighting crime and drugs.

  4. Skipbear says:

    Some excellent points made. I think a lot of us in the profession view these kind of issues the same way many of us view flying. We view the past through rose-colored glasses and bemoan the passing of the days when everyone and everything was perfectly safe at your public library, and people dressed up to fly and were treated like royalty. I’m not so sure that was ever entirely the case in urban libraries even a hundred years ago. We just traded one set of social issues for another.

  5. One thing I wondered, reading the Philly story, was whether anyone would be sued for either not administering Narcan or for making a mistake administering it. I realize there are Good Samaritan laws out there, but that doesn’t necessarily stop litigious people. I’m not saying that would change what I’d do – I’m just curious. And I’m very glad I no longer work in public libraries.

  6. LisaGenius says:

    At my library, the junkies multitask. They get wasted and then surf porn on the Internet. Then they nod off and we call the rescue. Or the cops. Or both.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I don’t think it’s at all appropriate for library staff to administer this drug to people. To someone else’s point, I would be too concerned about doing it incorrectly & the person overdosing anyway, & the legal implications to the library & its staff if that were to happen. It’s really terrible & I feel for someone going through an overdose, but having library staff handle this is abdicating responsibility of other local entities, such as city governments etc. The only people really trained for this who understand the medical implications are perhaps law enforcement, EMTs, medical staff, and firemen. I would absolutely refuse to comply with this, & call 911 instead, & yes I work in a library. This seems like a true problem, but just handing out overdose medication to people is not going to fix it; it’s too complex. And what about stress on staff, what a tough environment to work in! Libraries are indeed there to help people, but this takes it to an level that is really outside the library’s realm of responsibility.

  8. I see that, according to wikipedia, though naxalone is said to be “inexpensive,” the price of a “package of two auto-injectors in the US … has increased from $690 in 2014 to $4,500 in 2016.” Shades of the skyrocketing epipen price? Maybe, with the ultimate goal of mandating that naxalone be available everywhere, we can replay the (never-to-be-finished?) Mylan episode. We just need another Senator-CEO daughter-type connection. It’s cool that librarians, despite their constant refrain that libraries are underfunded, want to see yet more of US GDP go to healthcare efforts of this sort.

    Hopefully the taxpaying public will not prove unfeeling and find a distinction between opioid addicts and allergy sufferers. Potentially billions of dollars depend on it. The government heavily paid for people to get hooked on opioids in the first place, so perhaps it can be spun as a fairness issue, though people of color may balk at paying for the maintenance, as opposed to the criminalization, of a largely white drug habit.

  9. The Librarienne says:

    Since when did library school ever teach anything that’s actually relevant to the profession? I graduated in 2009 and the professor for my reference class was still waxing poetic about the good old days of Dialog.

  10. Carli Colchado says:

    I dont suppose Ive read something like this before.

  11. This is disgusting and disappointing at the same time. Don’t you people have rules and regulations to be followed in the library? leave alone the laws.

  12. Barbara Ferguson says:

    Such Hypocrites! I worked for the public library in the ’90s for 4 years while I attended University.

    About 2 years into the job I was introduced to Crystal Meth in my personal life. As any addict knows who has fallen victim to this horrific drug, it took me down an ugly path.

    It wasn’t long before I was fired after putting in 4 years on the job. Gone we’re my dreams of becoming a Librarian or EVER working in this field again..

    You see, the employees at the Almighty Library apprently NEVER forget or EVER give second chances. Well, at least in my case they didn’t.

    I bravely made a call 26 years later to a local branch as a clean and sober member of AA to procure a job SHELVING BOOKS part time. I needed to help feed my two children one of whom is disabled. Would they hire me? Nope!

    Of course I called Central Branch, the Human Resources person on the other end of the phone actually said that she had my FILE in front of her and it had a NOTE on it NOT to hire me EVER ?!

    I can’t help but think that if you had more employees in RECOVERY, it might help with the situation you find yourselves in now. After all ours IS a program of “attraction rather than promotion.” How many addicted patrons could you have helped by first giving others like me a second chance.

    I guess in my case, we will never get to know. Shame. Hopefully you haven’t been doing that to others but the current “situation” you find yourselves in speaks VOLUMES. (and not the good kind)

    Don’t worry about me however:

    “It is a far, far better thing I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.”


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