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.
This summer, Portland Public Library was awarded the Inclusive Internship Initiative grant from the Public Library Association to fund a paid, teen intern. Hussein Maow, 16, was selected from over 25 applicants. Here is what he learned this summer at PPL:
Working at the library this summer has been an amazing experience. I have learned what it truly means to be a librarian. What we patrons see from the outside isn’t always what is true. I have learned that the stereotypes that librarians are given are always most likely unrealistic. My definition of a librarian isn’t a librarian who reads books all day and shushes people when they get the chance, my definition is a skilled person who is kind and energetic. They are dedicated to serving patrons in technology and research needs.
I had a good time working with the teen librarians this summer because I have learned what the teen librarians are passionate about. They are devoted to working with teens and providing the major necessities a teen would need for their educational success. Through my time working with them they have shared with me their experiences and passion for teens. The teen librarian makes her lounge a fun, comfortable and experimental place for teens from all around the world, no matter the color of their skin.
Teen Zine Crafting
Helping the children’s librarians with their workshops made me realize that we need to be aware of the education essentials newborns need throughout their time of growing. Working with the children’s librarians has shown me how fun and interactive it is working with children. They give children the time to express who they are and what their growing minds are passionate about. The children’s play area is warm, comforting and colorful. They befriend every family that comes in through the door, so that the children feel like the library is their educational home.
When I was told the library has an outreach program for the elderly who don’t have the ability to travel anymore, I was amazed and interested to learn about it. I instantly wanted to go with the outreach head librarian. My first experience going out with the outreach team was unbelievable because they made every patron’s day. Every elderly patron that came in through the door was lit up with a big smile on their face. The head librarian and her team are kind, inviting and soft spoken. They reach every person whether they live in a retirement home or by themselves.
Through my time at the library, the PC desk has been the most diverse place in the library. Nowadays everything is online, but sometimes it’s hard for people to have access to a computer, so the library created a place where every patron who comes in has free access to computers and internet. This taught me that there’s always a way of helping people help themselves.
Overall I have learned a lot throughout my time here. Being a librarian isn’t always easy but the work they put in and the joy they get when they make someone’s day makes up for it. I have learned that librarians fight for the right of their patrons whether it’s educational or experiential needs of the people they serve. They strive for the safety and privacy of every person who comes in through their doors.
Hussein Maow, PPL Summer Intern
Hussein will be a Junior at South Portland High School this year. He is also an active member of the PPL Teen Advisory Board and will continue to help make PPL an inclusive and inviting place to be.
PPL is dedicated to offering excellent content in convenient ways. Sometimes we find ourselves needing to change the resources we provide. After careful consideration, we will no longer provide the hoopla digital online streaming service as of Thursday, August 31, 2017 at 8:00 pm.
Hoopla’s pay-per-use pricing model and pre-selected content is no longer a good fit for Portland Public Library. A more responsible use of our donor-supported collections budget is to increase the breadth of titles and number of copies in our other eBook and eAudiobook service, Cloud Library, to improve quality and access, and decrease hold times.
With over 60,000 card holders, our service area is too large to sustain hoopla’s pay-per-use pricing.
hoopla’s streaming service is free for patrons but incurs rapidly increasing costs to the Library. We would often reach our daily quota before we opened our physical doors for the day!
hoopla makes titles available based on their relationships with publishers, so we have no option to purchase titles we know are most in demand.
hoopla served a relatively small number of PPL patrons very well, but we have significantly more people already using the Cloud platform, for much less money overall.
As always, we appreciate your support of Portland Public Library, and we welcome your feedback whenever we make changes in our collection and services.
For current hoopla users, hoopla will honor the full borrowing period for materials checked out prior to the cutoff time.