To Know We're Not Alone

Thursday, June 18, 2015

“We read to know we’re not alone.”

For many book lovers, this quote from author and theologian C.S. Lewis captures their connection to the written word. Books transport us to far-off places and far-away times. They stretch our imaginations. They reaffirm and challenge us. Books remind us that we are all a part of a big, beautiful world.

For Anne Arthur, a health educator at Central City Concern’s Old Town Clinic (OTC), Lewis’s sentiment has led to a lifelong love affair with books.

Anne says, “I love to read. It’s such an important part of my life. I think it’s such a valuable thing.”

Her belief that books provide an intimate and necessary connection to the world also inspired her to reach out to patients of the Old Town Clinic in a unique way: a lending library accessible to all OTC patients.

We caught up with Anne to learn more about this wonderful project.

First off, what do you do as a health educator at the Old Town Clinic?
I provide brief interventions around drug and alcohol use using motivational interviewing. I check in with patients about where they are with drug and alcohol use. If they want resources or education around reduction or quitting, I help transition them to a counselor.

I also do work with a smoking cessation program. I do a lot of one-on-one quit plans with our patients. Most patients are pretty open to talking about these things and making changes. We’re seeing people quit and reduce over time!

How does the lending library work?
There’s a sign posted on the library that explains how it works. The sign asks that patients not take more than one book per week, and most patients have been really respectful of that expectation. Once they’ve taken a book and have read it, they can keep it or return it – it’s up to them.

A lot of people do bring the books back, but I’m glad the ones that don’t come back are out there being used.

Where did the idea for the lending library originate?
My office is located right around the corner from the 2nd floor Old Town Clinic waiting room. Sometimes, patients are experiencing a lot of stressors and it’s understandably brought into the waiting room with them. Initially, my thought was that having books to ready might help to make the waiting room a calmer place for everyone.

Also, for people who are living on the streets or maybe getting housing for first time, I think books can be a really valuable thing to take us out of our own situation, to imagine ourselves in other situations… escapism in a good way.

Some of our patients are getting housing for the first time in a long time. I really like the idea that they can have a few books that become their own to help make their space more of a home. Or they can pass along the book to a friend.

What kind of books are available?
I want to make sure that there are books of all kinds: fiction and non-fiction, political, theological, humor and cartoon books – everything. There’s also larger coffee table books that are photo-centric for patients with lower literacy or for patients who don’t enjoy reading as much.

I noticed that a lot of patients love National Geographic. I also noticed that self-helps books tend to go quickly, which is understandable when many of our patients have experienced trauma or are looking to gain healthier habits.

What do you think the lending library means to Old Town Clinic patients?
I would hope that it symbolizes that our clinic goes above and beyond basic healthcare. And of course, the lending library isn’t the only thing that does that. So much of what we do at CCC and the Old Town Clinic is really that humanity piece: we acknowledge and embrace our patients’ humanity.

I hope that this library makes the clinic a warmer and friendlier place. Other staff members have told me that patients have said that they really appreciate it and it makes them feel valued and respected to have that available.

The lending library is also a way to honor their trust in us at the clinic by showing them in other ways that we trust them back – from the rules of the lending library, to trusting them to pick books that are right for them.

What does the lending library mean to you?
I didn’t realize all the benefits of the library. Like I said, I originally thought it might help keep the lending library just a little calmer.

But I’ve gotten so much out of it – I recognize all the benefits, but I feel so happy. Sometimes I walk through the waiting room and seven out of the 10 patients waiting will have a book or a magazine. We also have a kids’ table in the waiting room if someone’s waiting for mom or dad, there are some children’s books. I walked through the other day and a mom was reading a book in Spanish to her child.

Have there been other benefits that have surprised you?
Yes! At the clinic, we have literature towers with handouts for patients. They intentionally have a lot of photographs and are written to meet the needs of people with low literacy (using simpler sentences and language). They have information about diabetes, pre-diabetes, exercise and eating, transgender resources, domestic violence, sexual assault, elder abuse – a lot of health information and some community-based resources patients might want.

I feel like the lending library works really well in concert with this literature. On one hand, the literature is very concrete and specific to their health and what their immediate health needs might be. After they pick up or read that literature, they can go find a book from the library. It’s a nice blend. It’s great to see patients who grab several handouts that pertain to their health but then also grab a book.

Many patients have started asking if they can donate books or magazines to the clinic. One patient said to me, “This clinic has done so much for me, and I don’t have a lot of money, but I’d love to donate some books as a way to give back.” What a feeling it was to hear that.

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If you are interested in donating books to Old Town Clinic’s lending library, feel free to contact Anne directly at anne.arthur@ccconcern.org. If you are interested in making other types of in-kind donations, please contact CCC’s donor services manager at catharine.hunter@ccconcern.org