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Pima County Public Library Nurse Program Brings Compassion and Caring to Patrons

by Paula Maez, Youth Services Librarian & Paulina Aguirre-Clinch, Librarian
Pima County Public Library
Tucson, Arizona

In January 2012, Pima County Public Library (PCPL) partnered with the Pima County Health Department, to become the first public library in the nation to have a public health nurse permanently assigned to its staff. Because the pilot program proved successful, PCPL was able to expand it to additional branches in the summer of 2012.

Currently, six part-time public health nurses work at six of PCPL’s most distressed branch libraries, including the Joel D. Valdez Main Library. All together, the nursing team works 40 hours per week at the libraries, the equivalent of one full-time employee or FTE. The public health nurses’ compassionate presence in the libraries is a huge relief to those in need, especially for those without homes or suffering from mental illness. While our nurses cannot prescribe medication or change bandages, they assess the needs of the many people who approach them for assistance. Our “library nurses” are in a position that allows them to provide general health checks and referrals. They also provide health education for the public that the library staff may not be able to offer.

The nurses love bridging the gap between library staff and the community. They remind us to be sympathetic and look beyond the surface of the people we serve. In other words, they urge us to remember that the actions and reactions of our patrons can stem from a variety of reasons. We must bear in mind that the grumpy man that responds curtly to us may not have eaten in several days, or the woman struggling with the computer may be upset because Facebook is her only connection to family. While the library staff provides help whenever possible, our nurses have the skills and experience to help de-escalate a situation or an angry patron. Due to their consistent presence inside our libraries, our nurses are helping to find solutions to those unfortunate, stressful situations, and create positive outcomes for our patrons, staff, and community as a whole.

In addition to having the public health nurse program profiled in the local media in Tucson, Arizona, the library has received great response and praise from its customers and community members. Many of our patrons seek out our nurses for help, while others come in because they have heard from friends that someone is available to help them. Patrons know that help is available; anything from a blood pressure check and a clean pair of socks, to toiletries that library staff members have collected.

More importantly, our patrons see their libraries as places where someone they know cares about them. PCPL’s partnership with the Pima County Health Department has been a tremendous success for our library and the community. The nurses allow our libraries to provide critical services to some of our community members who need them the most. PCPL looks forward to continuing to build this program with our public health nurses in the future, and encourages other library systems to consider implementing the unique and important services that this program provides.

About Pima County Public Library

The Pima County Public Library (PCPL), headquarted in Tucson, Arizona, enriches lives and builds community through opportunities to learn, know, interact and grow. With 28 libraries serving Tucson and the surrounding communities of Arivaca, Green Valley, Sahuarita, South Tucson, Ajo, Marana, Oro Valley and Catalina, PCPL provides a wide range of free services that contribute to the economic development of the community. For more information, visit the library’s web page, or call (520) 791-4010.

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