Stephanie Green was working recently on a computer at the library when a nurse approached to ask whether she wanted a flu shot.
“I’m on vacation from college, and I know it’s flu season,” Green said the other day. “I don’t want to get sick.”
So she accepted, becoming one of about 150 people in recent weeks who have gotten free flu shots at the public library as the Richland Library introduces one of its newest staff members — library nurse Catherine Horne.
Horne, who came on board in mid-November, is a resource for library patrons who need information about their health – guiding them to the places they can go for child immunizations, counseling services, and assistance in signing up for national health care, among other things.
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She imagines the flu-shot clinics, held at five libraries, will be the only direct health care services she’ll provide. Rather she said her role is “not necessarily to treat, but to be someone these folks can open up to.”
“And I can help direct them to resources they need,” she added.
Horne told an anecdote about a man at one of the libraries who was visibly upset. She introduced herself and asked whether there was anything she could do. He said no, but later tracked her down. “Actually,” he told her, “I’m upset because I need to get HIV testing and I don’t know where to go.”
The library’s leadership has made clear they want to expand the library’s reach beyond books, to become a gathering place for the community.
But a library nurse?
The notion was hard even for the job applicants to grasp, said Billy Wiggins, with the Midlands health region of the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. The $68,000 initiative was funded by the library with assistance from the Richland County Health Department.
“It kind of caught me off guard, because I’ve never heard of anything like this,” Wiggins said.
“So my first question was, ‘What exactly will this person do?’ ... The more we have progressed with the position and the partnership, the more clear it’s become what benefits this will have for both the library and the health department.”
The library tends to be a gathering place for homeless people and Horne said she’s partnering with Transitions, the downtown service center, to learn more about available resources.
She’s also rolling around ideas for programs on nutrition and anatomy geared toward the library’s young patrons, on drug interactions for older patrons and on stress reduction for those making use of the library’s job center.
Spokeswoman Laura Bliss Morris said the position was fashioned after a similar post at the Pima County Public Library in Tucson, Ariz. Horne was aware of a psychiatric nurse who began working out of a public library in San Francisco about five years ago.
Wiggins said he’s convinced a library-based nurse has the potential to influence people to improve their health. “I really have a feeling that it’s an idea that’s probably gaining ground across the nation.”