Our Cherished Spaces: Reckoning with the Opioid Crisis the Best We Know How | Compendium
Robert F. Lambert, President, York County Libraries

Robert F. Lambert, President,
York County Libraries


By Robert F. Lambert

We know that the opioid crisis is an endemic throughout our nation and in York County. We know that opioid pain pills are gateways to heroin. We know that addiction is an insidious disease that, left unchecked by treatment and one-on-one nurturing, ruins lives and families and costs billions in medical costs each year. We now know that this epidemic has spilled over into virtually all areas of American life, including public bathrooms.

At Martin Library, after thorough discussion with our staff and legal counsel, we decided to limit access to our adult bathrooms because of evidence of heroin abuse discovered amidst repeated plumbing issues. While these public bathrooms are currently unavailable, other facilities are available to program attendees, children, and adults with disabilities.

We have done this to stay true to our core values and mission while ensuring that our bathrooms do not unwittingly serve as places for drug abuse. We apologize for the inconvenience this causes those who use our facilities appropriately. This intermediary action is necessary to assure that Martin Library continues to be a safe environment for the over 31,000 community members who visit every month. To this end, we have hired a full-time library safety specialist whose work focuses on maintaining a safe and pleasant library experience.

Let it be known far and wide: We open our doors to all with the same long, inviting hours and are doing the same vital work in transforming lives and building community.

Let it be known far and wide: We are a safe, inviting, neutral space and third place — a place other than home and work where people can safely unwind, find inspiration, and reflect and get lost in a good read, discussion or presentation.

Let it be known far and wide: We are proud to provide top-notch library services to all people, addicts included, so long as they are using the library for legitimate purposes.

Let it be known far and wide: Our children’s library, which is physically distinct from the adult reading area and collections, has public bathrooms open to use for children, and our ready and willing staff are here to assist.

Let it be known far and wide: We will continue to search for best practices to make sure our adult bathrooms are safe and used as they are intended. According to a recent National Public Radio story, a proprietor at a coffee house in Cambridge, Massachusetts uses key codes and removed dropped ceilings from its bathrooms.

Other public places with bathrooms have inserted blue lighting to frustrate heroin users from finding a vein to inject a needle.

We will continue to keep abreast of what works, what is reasonable and cost-effective, what is true to our values and mission, and what is humane.

In the long run, to build social capital, as well as life-skills, intellectual, professional, economic, moral, and spiritual capital throughout York County, we are exploring a capital campaign with the support of a state capital grant application to make physical capital improvements to the following: Hellam’s Kreutz Creek Library, Red Lion’s Kaltreider-Benfer Library, and Martin Library.

A lot has changed since Martin Library’s last capital campaign fifteen years ago and counting. Part of our new capital campaign plan is to re-do outdated adult bathrooms to make them safe, no-abuse zones. At the same time, we will tackle this epidemic with what we know best – education, rational dialogue, engaging our young people, and bringing diverse peoples together.

Our heart goes out to all suffering from and affected by addiction, and our minds and hands reach for comprehensive, pro-active responses. As such, we have launched a program to help teens get a true understanding of the opioid epidemic in their communities and to express their response to this problem.

Inspired by the fictional book Smack by Melvin Burgess, teens will be introduced to the real issues surrounding addiction in sessions featuring:
A visit from local police to discuss what their involvement is in their community with opioid epidemic.
A presentation from Not One More, an organization made up of people who lost someone to opioid addiction or who were involved with opioids.
A Google Hangouts session with author Melvin Burgess.
A discussion and interactive game with representatives from the Children’s Home of York about how opioids affect the body.
A Teen Town Hall sparking discussions with teens from the program, the public, and members of the York Opioid Collaborative and its director Dr. Matthew Howie.
Registration is underway at Martin, Kreutz Creek, Guthrie Memorial, and Kaltreider-Benfer Libraries. The program runs from October 9th through November 11th, ending with the Town Hall.

As part of the program, each participant will be asked to create something in response to what they have learned through writing or art. What they create will be on display at the Teen Town Hall. Also as part of this program, a Pillar of Remembrance will be created and will be touring the participating libraries. Anyone with pictures of a loved one lost to opioid addiction may post a photo remembrance on the pillar.

The opioid epidemic has the power to bring our communities and nation to our knees. But there is nothing that threatens York County that the great people of York County, working together, cannot meet. We must demand eternal vigilance, pro-active and searching dialogue, and smart policies and incentives to improve lives and build safer, stronger communities.