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PPL at 150: Creating a healthy community

posted: , by Emily Levine
tags: About the Library | Director's Updates | PPL150 | Adults | Teens | Kids & Families | Seniors | Health | News

Throughout 2017, some of our partners will share their perspective on PPL in honor of our 150th anniversary celebration.

Today’s contributor is Sam Zager, MD, a family physician at Martin’s Point in Portland and a weekly volunteer in a Greater Portland Health high school-based clinic. In addition to his medical credentials, he has a master’s degree in Economic and Social History. He is currently reading Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton.


Sam Zager, MD

It is a privilege to join the celebration of Portland Public Library’s 150th anniversary!

Back in 1867, in the rebuilding time following the Great Fire, the city’s vision for the future featured a top-notch library; and we are the fortunate heirs. With excellent stewardship, PPL to this day offers lifetimes-worth of tangible texts, recordings, and images; it also is a point of access for digital information; it is a physical space for community meetings; it holds a wealth of Portland’s historical archives; it hosts English-language education for new Mainers; it serves as a venue for the arts; and it provides safe spaces for children, adolescents, and adults to seek truth, delight their sensibilities, and nourish their spirit. Plus, it does this all at no cost to patrons. Portland’s post-Civil War leaders intuitively understood that a public library is a core institution of a noteworthy community. I wonder, though, if they fully appreciated all that Portland Public Library could offer to the physical and emotional health of our city and its inhabitants.

The idea that public libraries matter for health is relatively new, and has roots in New England. In response to a proposal to close several public library branches in Boston in 2010, leaders came together from the city’s five medical schools, graduate schools in public policy and public health, several major hospitals, and primary and specialty care practices. One of these signatories had received the Nobel Peace Prize, and another had received the National Medal of Science. A joint statement by such a diverse group regarding a city-level proposal is quite rare. This panel of experts asserted for the first time in history that public libraries benefit individual and public health, and that closing libraries could contribute to illness or premature death.

How can public libraries matter for health? They cited two ways. First, public libraries are integral to education and literacy, both of which correlate with good health. Second, public libraries can enhance the social fabric of a community, which in turn, improves health outcomes. They based their statement on many peer-reviewed research articles from the medical, public health, and social science literature.

Between 2013 and 2015, our own public library system helped advance what the world knows about the intersection of public libraries and health. PPL collaborated in the world’s first direct and quantified study of health and public libraries. The Health and Libraries of Public Use Retrospective Study (HeLPURS), was published last year for an international audience in Health Information & Libraries Journal. HeLPURS documented for the first time a strong association between public library use and tobacco cessation. Smoking patrons who used their library cards at least a moderate amount, or within the previous six months, had over two-times higher odds of quitting smoking. There were similar findings for illicit drug use. These findings regarding substance abuse are highly pertinent in Maine, one of the most opioid-affected states in America. HeLPURS augmented the 2010 expert statement by adding evidence that public libraries may contribute to health far beyond their conventional role as gateways for health information.

As PPL looks ahead at the next 150 years, technology will change, but the fundamental biologic and social ingredients of health likely will remain the same. In recent years, we have started to demonstrate the role public libraries as institutions play in health. Further work could validate these preliminary findings and elaborate the details. Even at this early point, though, it seems that the safe, respectful, non-judgmental, and stimulating environment of a professionally staffed and well-resourced public library contributes to a healthy mind and body.


PPL at 150: A leading non-profit

posted: , by Emily Levine
tags: About the Library | PPL150 | Adults | Teens | Kids & Families | Seniors

Throughout 2017, some of our partners will share their perspective on PPL in honor of our 150th anniversary celebration.

Today’s contributor, Jennifer Hutchins, is the Executive Director of the Maine Association of Nonprofits. Jennifer is currently reading Voltaire Almighty: a life in pursuit of freedom by Roger Pearson.

MANP Executive Director Jennifer Hutchins


 

Maine’s future prosperity depends on advancing innovative solutions to address community challenges, connecting people to opportunities, and strengthening our social fabric through broader civic engagement.  This is the daily work of the nonprofit sector, aptly exemplified by Portland Public Library.

Step inside on any given day to find the Library connecting people to economic opportunities, nurturing innovative ideas, inspiring creativity, and fostering a joy of reading. This is all made possible by champions of a civil society in which free access and open exchange of ideas is valued and advocated. Our libraries are the repositories of the stuff that fuels our minds and souls, and I am continually impressed by the proactive ways my library colleagues share this deep well of knowledge and information with the community.

A true community center, Portland Public Library serves an impressive diversity of people. I am inspired by and grateful for this space where neighbors actually see and talk to one another face to face, given our evolving society that increasingly relies on virtual spaces for communication and dialogue.

The Maine Association of Nonprofits’ mission is to improve the quality of community and personal life in Maine by strengthening the leadership, voice, and organizational effectiveness of our state’s nonprofits. As a MANP member, the Library is part of a network of more than 800 nonprofits throughout Maine that are united around a common purpose: to advance the common good.

One of the larger nonprofits in Maine, the Library is part of a significant economic engine. In 2014, the state’s nonprofit sector employed 1 in 6 workers and contributed $11 billion to the economy. Portland Public Library is just one example of Maine’s approximately 3,000 public charities, sustaining dozens of jobs, while providing services and programs that make our community a better place to live and work.

Nonprofits are critical partners with government and business. Every day, they are hard at work, often with the help of hundreds of volunteers, weaving strong social fabric, cultivating civil society, and stimulating a healthy economy. Working hand in hand, we all can play a part in maintaining and improving the quality of life of our state.


PPL at 150: A model public library

posted: , by Emily Levine
tags: About the Library | PPL150 | Adults | Teens | Kids & Families | Seniors | News
Maine State Librarian Jamie Ritter

Maine State Librarian Jamie Ritter

Throughout 2017, some of our partners will share their perspective on PPL in honor of our 150th anniversary celebration.

Today’s contributor, Jamie Ritter, was selected by the Maine Library Commission in December 2014 to serve as Maine State Librarian. He is currently reading Virtual Unreality by Charles Seife.


Happy 150th Birthday, Portland Public Library!

You are an incredible resource to your community and serve as a model public library in Maine and across the nation. Bravo!

For 45 years and counting, PPL has been a foundational partner of the Maine State Library in providing, at no charge, “access to quality library collections at accessible locations for all citizens regardless of economic means or accident of geographic location.”

This regional service is critical to all Mainers and enshrined in law. At its heart, it ensures “equal and free access to the state’s great literature collections and informational resources.”

The crux of Maine State Library’s ongoing partnership is our collaborative approach and significant sharing of resources as we serve both individual citizens and other libraries.

Such a partnership requires dedication and perseverance. It’s easy to collaborate and share resources when times are great, budgets are flush, and organizations are fully staffed. When times are more challenging, the test of the partnership relies on the core values we all hold dear: to do all we can do to ensure that free access to library materials remains uninhibited.

This requires trust –trust between us as partners, and the trust we build with our communities so they know we stand at the ready to make sure public libraries remain sacred places that cherish the values of free access, privacy, enlightenment, and intellectual freedom.

Portland Public Library embodies these values and so much more. It’s a special place, embedded in the heart of the greater Portland community. PPL welcomes all, serves as a place of pride for the community, and preserves the best of our democratic values.

Keep up the great work, Portland Public! We are so honored to be your partner in bringing essential library services to Maine people. May your next 150 years be as exciting and terrific as the first.

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