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Boise Public Library wants to hire a mental health worker

Boise Library
Scott Graf
Boise State Public Radio

Boise City Council will soon consider adding a mental health professional to its library staff, which is part of a growing trend nationwide.

Boise Library Director Jessica Dorr said Wednesday at a meeting before the library’s board of directors that the demand for this kind of a position is clear.

“There are a lot of indicators of this is a really challenging time in our community with … very unequal resources,” Dorr said.

High call volumes to the Idaho Suicide Prevention hotline, food insecurity and pricey housing, she said, are just some of those signs.

Boise city officials allocated more money to the library for additional security in September, according to Dorr.

“But that doesn’t meet the needs of our community right now, in particular, people experiencing mental health crises in our facilities.”

She said library staff advocated hiring a mental health coordinator after seeing similar programs across the country.

Leah Esguerra is credited as the first social worker at a library in the country when she was assigned to the San Francisco Public Library in 2009.

“Really, it’s just talking to someone and approaching them and asking them sincerely how their day has been going or how they’re feeling,” Esguerra said.

After gaining someone’s trust, she said the library can more easily help them find housing, health care or food.

Twelve years later, she now helps oversee the San Francisco Library’s mental health program and said helping people in need, regardless of their housing situation, strengthens the community as a whole.

“A person does not necessarily need to be unhoused in order to experience depression or loneliness or isolation,” Esguerra said.

Now, she manages a team of health and safety associates, people who previously experienced homelessness, to make these kinds of connections with patrons every day.

Sharing their lived experience when appropriate, Esguerra said, helps create a tighter connection more quickly.

She also organizes training sessions for library staff to learn how to handle people in crisis.

Dozens of libraries across the U.S. now employ mental health professionals or social workers.

The job description for the Boise Library’s potential mental health coordinator would also train staff across branches, as well as lead community classes on mental health issues.

It’s unclear how much money such a hire would cost. Dorr said that figure would be presented to city council members when they consider the request next Tuesday.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

Copyright 2021 Boise State Public Radio

I cover politics and a bit of everything else for Boise State Public Radio. Outside of public meetings, you can find me fly fishing, making cool things out of leather or watching the Seattle Mariners' latest rebuilding season.

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