Altering Library Practices
The partnership is focusing its efforts where there is highest impact for residents, and working to change culture, policies, and systems in lasting ways. The Enoch Pratt Free Library was the first public agency to participate in the training. Today, all 450 librarians have been trained. In one stunning result, the library system eliminated its policy of zero-tolerance for drug use. Before the training, if someone entered the library and appeared to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs, staff would have them leave the premises. Now the library matches people who need support with the Peer Navigator Program, a workforce development program led by Tiffinee Scott of the Maryland Peer Advisory Council, where people who have lived experience with addiction provide culturally relevant and trauma-informed services—all within the library system. The peer navigators have engaged more than 2,400 community members in seven libraries across the city. They recently received a request from the governor’s office to expand the program statewide.
Councilman Cohen shares why the partnership decided to begin with the library system. “Enoch Pratt was a great first partner because it is a trusted, safe place in the city, a place to get access to housing, treatment for addiction, and so much more. We started with the libraries because they are spaces of civic innovation, community, Internet access, job training, and more. Libraries are also places where we see trauma, substance use disorder, and homelessness, so we placed peer recovery coaches in the libraries.”
The partnership has also influenced changes in the library’s systemwide response and overall mindset in how the staff interact with the community. Now when a harmful event occurs near a library, library staff organize a response to go to the schools with social workers and peer navigators. “We need to approach it with the lens of ‘why.’ We had to shift our mindset, saying, ‘How do we deal with this problem of people coming in to do drugs in our bathrooms?’ versus ‘How we do we support the folks in our communities?’” shares Heidi Daniel, president and CEO of the Enoch Pratt Library System.
The task force has also achieved policy change at the city level. Its policy subcommittee made a case that not every problem requires a policing solution. The subcommittee advocated for and got the city council to pass $1.5 million for the Baltimore Crisis Response, which provides qualified first responders, not police, to address mental health crises.