My favorite job during college wasn’t building sets for the school theater or managing a fancy hotel, it was working the front desk at my hometown library. Not only did I make decent money—which paid for me to commute to school—but I also got to help people find the resources they were looking for.
At least once a shift, I helped someone get on the internet to search job listings or pay a bill. I was young and naïve—and probably not as helpful as I could’ve been—but I could tell it meant a lot to them that the public library was there.
So when I read about what public employees are doing at Denver Public Library, I was reminded of the value of public space and public employees.
Homelessness is skyrocketing in Denver due to rising housing prices and rents. Last year, Colorado had the nation’s largest increase in the number of homeless veterans. City officials have reacted with force rather than care, banning camping and cracking down on existing encampments.
But the library is taking a different approach. Employees partnered with local nonprofits to wash people’s laundry and host writing workshops for those going through hard times. Management also hired two social workers to help visitors find affordable housing, register for public benefits, and connect with citywide resources.
Earlier this year, the library trained staff to administer an anti-overdose nasal spray, as Denver recoils from the opioid epidemic sweeping the country. They bought 12 spray kits in February—by May, they had used seven of them.
“It costs us $75 per kit,” said the library’s central administrator. “If you can save somebody’s life for $75, let’s do it.”
Libraries, like post offices, beaches, and parks, are public spaces that bring us together and form the backbone of a healthy and just society. When they’re well-funded and under democratic control, we can do great things with them.
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