Public libraries are increasingly being called upon to provide disaster services and support for those chronically in need, such as the homeless and seniors, yet their budgets continue to be cut.
"Today's librarians provide essential services to their communities, acting as key social agents by playing the role of emergency first-responder, social worker, accountant, friend to the homeless, and babysitter to latchkey teens.
Some of these roles librarians welcome, some they don't. Undoubtedly, though, ongoing funding cuts to US libraries will be a major blow not just to bookworms, but also to the many who turn to libraries in their hour of need.
Amid the chaos of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, for example, storm victims flooded local libraries to fill out insurance forms, plead with FEMA, and email relatives and friends. In Florida's Pasco County, library workers handle the overflow calls to emergency hotline phone banks. As Ellen Perlman reports for Governing, libraries also assist disaster workers, often providing much-needed wireless services and safe, secure headquarters in what are typically among the most soundly built structures in any given town. Last year, reports Perlman, libraries everywhere extended their roles yet further as seniors, baffled by the cryptic Medicare Part D, sought the aid of librarians in filling out the forms."