Penn Program Helps Libraries Assist Vulnerable Populations
The Free Library of Philadelphia, the 13th largest public library system in the United States, has 54 neighborhood locations that host about 6 million in-person visits every year. Many of these patrons are vulnerable: They may be recent immigrants, children, or those experiencing mental illness, substance abuse, or homelessness.
Two years ago, Carolyn Cannuscio led a team from Penn and the Free Library of Philadelphia to form the Healthy Library Initiative. The initiative has documented the significant role of Philadelphia’s libraries, their programs, and the role their staff play in promoting healthy communities. It is also using that information to develop health programming and trainings for employees throughout the library system, reports Penn Current, Penn University magazine.
After a wide research into South Philadelphia neighborhoods, the Initiative found out that what people needed from their public libraries was from help with housing to food, employment, and health care.
Two years later, the program includes librarians like Will Torrence, from the South Philadelphia branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia, who offers far more than books to the local community. He fields questions all day long, a third of which are about health issues. He listens to patrons, who often come to the library when they are in need—or even in crisis—and he tries to improvise solutions to their most pressing challenges.
Read more about the Healthy Library Initiative in Penn Current.