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Boise Library! just hired its first-ever mental health coordinator

Library Mental Health Coordinator.jpg
City of Boise, Boise Library, Boise State Public Radio
Ashley Hammond (center) is the new Mental Health Coordinator and Jessica Door (right) is the director of the Boise Library system.

Truth be told, there’s something new at the Boise library nearly every day; but its newest addition is a bit of a game-changer: a new Mental Health Coordinator.

Ashley Hammond recently filled the city’s new position. She and Boise Library Director Jessica Door visited with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about the innovation and how Hammond has already assisted some of the library’s visitors.

“The downtown branch does see library users who are experiencing a number of life challenges, which may be those who are unhoused or experiencing mental health symptoms or substance abuse,” said Hammond. “And so connecting them with the resources in the area is kind of what this position is all about.”

“This is, I believe, just an incredible renaissance time for libraries. The recognition of the role that they play in providing access and opportunity and quite frankly, hope for a whole community is really critical.”

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It is Morning edition on Boise State Public Radio News. Good morning. I'm George Prentice. At the Boise library, there are almost as many questions and answers as there are books. Library staff listen to, and deal with questions on just about anything. And now, for some more personal and possibly more immediate questions, there are some answers to those as well. There is a new Mental Health Coordinator for the library system. Her name is Ashley Hammond. Jessica Dorr is the director of the Boise Public Library. And Ashley Hammond and Jessica Dorr join us this morning from the library. Good morning to you both.

JESSICA DORR: Good morning, George. Thank you for having us.

ASHLEY HAMMOND: Good morning.

PRENTICE: Ashley, we're going to talk about you for a few minutes…not behind your back. Goodness knows, you are free to listen. But Jessica Dorr, let me ask: how did you come to choose Ashley Hammond for this job?

DORR: Well, we are absolutely delighted to have Ashley's experience and background on our staff. As you know, we were lucky to have the mayor's office and city council approve a new full time mental health coordinator position for the library. And we were really careful in who we selected for this role. We looked for someone with a strong background in social work, but also someone who is able to work with us at the system level to make sure that all of our staff are able to take advantage of her experience and her network and her connections in the community.

PRENTICE: Ashley Hammond I have just learned that you are a native. You have a sense of the nuance of this community, the growth of this community, growing pains of this community, and everything that goes with it. But you have chosen to do what you do where you grew up. Talk to me about your choice to do this here.

HAMMOND: For me, I feel like it's kind of full circle in a way. You know, having grown up here, I came to this library as a kid. It's so cool to be working here in this capacity, especially under the context of my profession. My mother is a social worker, so I kind of grew up with the social worker values instilled in me. So, so that's, that's been kind of a part of my life. From an early age, you know, I went to school here. I obtained my bachelor's degree in social work and from here from Boise State. And I went on to get my graduate degree and then my clinical license. So I've been practicing social work for about ten years. I'm deeply passionate about providing resources to people who are underserved and advocating for those in the community who struggle to have their voices heard. I see this role as a perfect mix between providing what's called or referred to as direct services and working with agencies and those in leadership positions to ensure that we are addressing and meeting community needs. I was instantly drawn to this position when it was posted, and I am just so excited to see how this position continues to develop.

PRENTICE: So, Ashley, can you give me possibly a real life example of how you might interact with someone who is having a pretty rough day and may be in crisis?

HAMMOND: You know, I've had several interactions so far with regular library users who are already here. And they notice that I'm new in the building and they've stopped by and ask several questions about what this role is.

PRENTICE: Let me pause you there. So, some folks have found you?

HAMMOND: Yeah, I just I think that that already demonstrates, like, people are already here who are in need of services. You know, I've helped an individual who requested assistance in locating a neurologist and another individual who needed resources for local shelters.

PRENTICE: So, can I assume that, for instance, a shelter or a meal may be high on a lot of people's lists?

HAMMOND: You know, the downtown branch does see library users who are experiencing a number of life challenges, which may be those who are unhoused or experiencing mental health symptoms or substance abuse. And so connecting them with the resources in the area is kind of what this position is all about.

PRENTICE: I'm curious about how you do what you do without taking me to deep into the weeds. Can I assume that it begins with a soft conversation… and then somewhere in that becomes some type of initial assessment? And then there are levels of other assessments?

HAMMOND: I think we're trying to work together and figuring out what that looks like here. Yeah, I think a big piece of that is becoming a familiar face in the library and and a staff member who they can come to for information resources just in the same way that they would a library assistant. They're just getting information about a particular subject that they needed a social worker for. That's what I have been doing so far, is introducing myself as the new mental health coordinator for the library, asking some questions about if they have any needs and kind of going from there and what they're comfortable with disclosing and what resources that they have identified that that I can connect them with.

PRENTICE: Jessica Dorr… it won't come as a huge surprise to many of our listeners that on any given day there are men, women or even children in one of your libraries in need of this service. But for most of us, that's been anecdotal. Do you have a sense of how busy Ashley could ultimately be?

ORR: That's a great question. And part of what we talked about when Ashley onboarded was giving her time to really understand the need across the city. Right now, she has a desk, an office at our downtown location, which is on the first floor. She's also has we'll start moving to some of the other locations, our branch locations and meeting the staff and community there. And we're giving her time to really understand what is going to be the right balance for the amount of time that she might have open office hours. We anticipate you'll be able to make appointments with her. She'll also coordinate some of our other opportunities that we have with resources in the area. For instance, Jessie Tree and our Path Home do out. They do pop up outreach in some of our libraries and so she'll help us coordinate that with maybe some other organizations as well. We're looking for her to really, you know, do a community needs assessment in the library with us and help us shape what's the right balance between having time with the public, setting up resources, and then also really making sure that our staff are aware of new challenges that we're seeing in the community, as well as new resources that they could be able to point people to no matter what location they're at.

PRENTICE: So, Jessica, can I also assume that this elevates your whole team, right?

DORR: I think that's really the case that staff made to me about why this role was so important, was how it would make us all more effective and make us all better able to meet community needs. You know, the knowledge and the network that Ashley brings is something that we're really eager to tap. And we also know that because community health needs change rapidly, we need someone with that expertise to keep us abreast of changes and trends. But also, when we do need something that is more in depth, that is more a subject expert, we can have her help make our staff understand how they can be effective in connecting people to resources. But also, some of her early engagements with our library users have been longer and in depth and more complex than our staff can do in some of the when they're working on the desk and are working on making book recommendations or helping people get connected to the wi fi, this allows us to really better serve all of our community because we've got that expertise that is both standing side by side with us but also supporting us.

PRENTICE: Ashley, you said your mom is a social worker.

HAMMOND: Yeah, she spent a lot of time here in Boise. Of course, she was in child welfare for a great deal of time. And now she works in hospice.

PRENTICE: So, sons and daughters sometime run in the other direction of their parents. But let me ask you why you do what you do.

HAMMOND: Well, I think it goes back to what I was saying earlier about when she was raising me. You know, she instilled the social work, values, dignity and worth of a person, importance of human relationships that kind of stayed with me. And then when I went to school at Boise State and, you know, I took a social work class and I kind of it kind of opened my eyes because, you know, I previously was under the impression, like, oh, if you're a social worker, you go into child welfare. But I had no idea until I went to Boise State that there are social workers in just about any agency because so many people need social workers throughout their lives in one capacity or another. And I'd like to take this opportunity to really commend the library staff and the city council for recognizing that there was a gap in services here, and they needed the expertise of a social worker to kind of help address that. So.

PRENTICE: Jessica, this is really good news. That said, the world is not getting any kinder and our need for service such as this has never been greater. If we had a conversation with someone who was a librarian, say, in the 1950s or 1960s, their head would be spinning right now. But this indeed is the library of the 21st century.

DORR: I remember that was a discussion probably 20 years ago. Why would we need a library when we have all the information in the world on a computer or on our phone? And it really is this is, I believe, just an incredible renaissance time for libraries. The recognition of the role that they play in providing access and opportunity and quite frankly, hope for a whole community is really critical. And I, I see the reason that Boise invests in its library because it wants to create a welcoming space for the whole community. And there's no single institution that is a better investment for the educational, cultural or economic fabric of a community than its public library.

PRENTICE: Jessica Dorr is the director of the Boise Public Library. Ashley Hammond is the new mental health coordinator for the library system. Thank you so very much. Great good luck to you and your colleagues and thanks for giving us some time this morning.

DORR: Thank you.

HAMMOND: Thank you.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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