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Come Overdose @ Your Library

This is my last post about libraries and overdoses. Probably. I promise.

It might be alarming to anxious Americans who dream of emigrating that Canada isn’t the utopia some of them imagine. It has an opioid crisis as well, and the discussion of what to do about overdoses occupies their librarians, too.

You can learn a lot in the article, like how there are enough opioid overdoses in Vancouver that random citizens are carrying naloxone with them just in case they encounter one in the street. I know Canadians are supposed to be super nice and all, but that might be taking it too far.

There’s a debate among librarians as to whether libraries should allow staff to intervene when encountering an overdose victim, as opposed to calling 911. Some library policies forbid it, and it’s not entirely clear if librarians could intervene while on the job even if they’ve received training elsewhere.

Unsurprisingly, there are librarians who want to welcome everyone. I was particularly intrigued by this quote: “We’re a community centre. We are a centre where community gathers. And that means everybody in the community is welcome here, including people who might have an opioid overdose. We want to be able to help them.”

If you want a quote that summarizes the desire for librarians to save the world and the incoherence of their plans to do so, you could do worse than that one.

The logic seems impeccable: everybody comes here, so we should help everyone. Impeccable, but vague.

More specifically, it’s: everybody comes here with problems, so we should help everyone with their problems. Put that way, it still sounds great. Librarians save the world!

Only what I’ve noticed over the years is that the problems librarians want to help with are always arbitrary once they get away from problems librarians could solve as librarians.

If you need a book or help using library computers, it makes sense for librarians to intervene. But overdoses?

And if overdoses, why not other problems? There’s no good reason why librarians should train as first responders to overdoses and not also provide showers and laundry facilities for homeless people.

The best reason would probably be that someone is potentially dying right in front of the librarian. However, even in the worst areas of the opioid crisis it’s rare compared to the problem of homelessness, which librarians also seem to think they can solve.

Librarians want to provide services to the homeless, but not the services they most need: showers, laundry, and housing. Why? Because they provide library services to the homeless.

But administering naloxone isn’t a library service. Handing the opioid abusers pamphlets with information about how dangerous their actions are might be, but probably not very effective.

The lesson should be that libraries can’t effectively solve all social problems.

If we follow the logic to its conclusion, the next step isn’t just to prepare librarians to administer naloxone to people who overdose, it’s to advertise the library as a place to overdose. After all, libraries should advertise their services so the public knows about them, right?

“Everybody in the community is welcome here, including people who might have an opioid overdose.” That’s the flyer right there.

Why not advertise the library as a “safe space” to overdose? Come in, read a book, browse some porn on the computers, and ingest some fentanyl. Don’t worry about it. The librarians have your back.

People who think they might overdose but don’t want to die should head to the public library. Is this the message librarians want to send? Because that’s the message that quote is sending.

It’s just another sign of the breakdown of any coherent purpose for public libraries. Become social workers! Become EMTs! Welcome everybody and pretend to solve all of their problems!

It’s possible that libraries could help with the opioid crisis, but the ways libraries could help are indirect and not nearly as newsworthy as packing a naloxone case.

The people who are drugging themselves into oblivion to the point of overdose seem to need some meaning and purpose in their lives, and the books, music, movies, and programming that libraries provide could potentially help with that. Libraries have helped provide meaning and purpose for so many people.

The only time librarians get publicly excited about stuff like that, though, is if some famous person talks about being inspired by libraries as a child. Now, it’s all social work and emergency response, you know, to help people.

The potential downside is obvious. If the libraries become so packed with homeless people and drug abusers that the ordinary people who want to use them as libraries stay away, libraries will go away and librarians won’t be able to help anyone. It’s something to think about.


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


  1. Darryl Eschete says:

    “The lesson should be that libraries can’t effectively solve all social problems.”

    Just wait until Emilio’s new movie comes all the way out. I imagine that your sentiment will be overwhelmed by the hurricane wind of public opinion demanding that we do more to contribute to doing just that. It is a socially dangerous situation for a library administrator these days who insists that being a Federal summer lunch site or a place for the intransigent to shower are not things one has to feel guilty saying “no” to.

  2. anonymous coward says:

    “Everybody in the community is welcome here, including people who might murder other people.” That’s the flyer right there.

  3. This is so painfully obtuse. Libraries aren’t advocating to become cool places to use drugs (we still call the police and kick them out if we catch them). But given the option between watching someone die while I sit on the phone with 911 vs spraying some narcan up their nose seems like a pretty easy decision.

  4. Frumious Bandersnatch says:

    Why stop at overdoses? Someone has an aneurysm while filing their online tax return? Brain Surgery@your Library! I mean, if we can already be EMTs, how much of a leap is it to do a little arterial repair at the reference desk?

  5. Darryl Eschete says:

    Indigent, not intransigent. Spell check just suggested the same correction again, too.

  6. I’m not interested in Narcan at my library, for lots of reasons, including that we haven’t (yet) seen an opioid overdose here and that our 911 response is typically less than five minutes, which is far less time than it would take us to find the Narcan, find the gloves, get into a huddle over whose job it is to administer it, decide to ask the Director, try to find the Director, try to find Admin, try to find the Custodian, give up and call 911 anyways…

    But we are mandated by law to report any suspected child abuse. We are mandated by City policy to supply (and be trained on) defibrillators. We are mandated to separate our recyclables from our garbage. We are “encouraged” (so strongly that it might as well be a requirement) not only to have a social media presence, but one that promotes the “best interests” of the City. There are probably other similar requirements that I’m not thinking of at the moment, that come not from being librarians, but from being providers of tax-supported government services.

    If the people of this City (or their duly elected representatives) determined that provision of and training with Narcan should be among those requirements, I don’t have any problem with that.

  7. anonymous coward says:

    So, because you already have a lot of bad policies, what difference does one more make?

  8. I just don’t want to watch someone die. It’s super selfish, I am thinking entirely of myself. I.don’t.

    Screw the social work aspect, screw “helping people” If I had to watch someone slowly asphyxiate while not being able to do anything about it, I don’t know how I could keep going, So selfishly, I am signed up for Narcan training.

  9. An opioid overdose is not exclusively from heroin or fentanyl. It is also not exclusive to junkies. In June 2017, AARP published a piece about senior citizens accidentally overdosing on pain pills [percocet, oxycontin] taken in combination with anti-anxiety medication [xanax, klonopin] — legally prescribed by their own doctors with good intentions. Those people aren’t trying to get high, aren’t aware that the combination is deadly, and the overdoses are purely accidental. Since it’s not an instant intravenous injection, they could have taken their medication at home and came to the library before the overdose even begins to set in. There are libraries with AED machines and improper use can be deadly. There are libraries with fire drills, tornado drills, active shooter drills, general disaster plans, and CPR training for staff. How many times have any of those things been put into practice? Yet we do them anyways, oftentimes every single year if not more.

    I have evzio narcan in my purse at all times — while in the library and while in the rest of my life. It is as complex to use as a spring-operated stamp pad and takes 5 whole seconds to administer. It cost me $0. Band-aids are more expensive.

  10. Rockin' Robin says:

    I have mixed feelings. I don’t object to learning something new or to having a well-equipped first-aid kit at hand in the library. But I do object to the availability of naloxone being publicized, as if it is a routine service that people should expect when they visit their local library. It also calls into question current library policy about other things. Current policy says I am not allowed to give so much as an aspirin or acetaminophen to an adult who asks for one. If I am not trusted to hand out aspirin, how is it ok for me to judge whether a person who is unconscious is suffering from an overdose of fentanyl or a stroke? And when the naloxone finishes off my stroke victim, will the library board of trustees have my back?

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