Sunday, May 11, 2014

Connectivity for the Convalescent

Just a quick update/call to action today inspired by my mom’s recent health travails and, of course, Mother’s Day.

The Moms has recently gone through a lot of stuff, including a back surgery that necessitated a several-week stay at a rehab center.  She was roundly agog at the level of professionalism and care she found there, for which we are all grateful, but the place had a couple glaring cons.

Number one, it had a paltry “library” consisting of 50% awful romance novels and 50% weird melange of everything else, all out of order and without regard to, you know, real people’s reading interests.

Number two, the whole facility was wif-fi verboten.

Now, it is true that the majority of the facility’s patients are on the older end of the spectrum (my very “hip” and “with-it” mom was the youngest by a couple decades at least), but it’s kind of a stereotype that all old ladies only read Harlequin novels and fear the computers/rob’uts.  And even if the vast majority of patients ARE rob’ut-fearing, Fabio-loving seniors, my mom’s sojourn proves that the number does not reach 100%, and so those outliers ought to have their needs addressed as best as possible--to say nothing of the families who come to visit and who might want to page through a good book or pull out the laptop to search for Bahamas cruises for Grandma when she gets out of the joint.

And that’s never mind the fact that we should be encouraging our seniors to become more comfortable engaging in modern technology, as it improves their well-being and sense of connectedness, but I won’t get into that here.

No, instead I’ll just ask my librarian colleagues reading this to keep rehab facilities in mind when thinking about outreach and community engagement efforts in the future, and to point out that they seem to fall into an underserved grey area between straight-up senior living facilities, which tend to be on librarians’ radars for bookmobiles and other services, and hospitals, which tend to have greater built-in infrastructure to see to patients’ informational and entertainment needs.  (Emphasis on “tend,” of course.)

I know that it’s just what we need--yet another node of would-be patrons who, knowingly or not, deserve a slice of our fraying, shrinking temporal and monetary resources.  But we can’t ignore a need just because it’s hard. Some of these people are in real dire straits emotionally--there was a lot of difficult stuff to listen to in my mom’s center.  Something as simple as a well-curated shelf of relevant and interesting books, or a visiting librarian empowered to loan out books for special, longer periods between stops, or even some intensive reader’s advisory/bibliotherapy sessions, could go a long way to easing some pain.

Then there’s this, shifting to the thornier issue of connectivity:

That would be a library loaning out the Internet.  Cool, huh?  

Obviously not every library has the funds for such a program, but as responsible trustees of the public good, librarians must not underestimate the powerful intersection of personal giving, crowdsourcing, and social media. My family was very fortunate that a friend of my mom decided to start a crowdfunded campaign to get her a mobile hotspot, keeping her connected to all of us while she recovered away from home.  But such things are expensive and can come with strings attached, so they’re not an option for everyone.  Enter the model introduced by the library above.  Is it a perfect solution?  No, but it’s the kind of innovative step that can have a big impact on people in the short term.  Libraries with the will to do so should look into establishing such a program, and maybe adapt it to a bookmobile model--not necessarily to loan out a week at a time, but to make rounds to area dead zones and provide a few hours’ access throughout the week.  It would be a big boon to the homebound and inpatients at places like my mom’s facility.  And we’re the masters of social media, right?  My mom’s campaign raised over $700 in something like 36 hours through Facebook alone.  Imagine what we can do with our librarianly reach and savvy.

I’m not insensitive to the dictates of dwindling library resources, so I’d love some feedback from my readers about what they think is possible.  Is it feasible to deputize well-established volunteers to bring selections of books to these facilities and rotate read books back as they are finished and their dates come due (and avoid cutting into library employees’ time)?  Can we extend due dates beyond our current limitations for renewals to accommodate those whose circumstances cause them to take longer to finish a book?  Can we reach out to these information-needy people with a kind of needs assessment to determine how we can best serve them?  And what do you think about the mobile hotspot idea--any thoughts on how to improve the basic concept?

We’re so happy to have my mom home this Mother’s Day as we enjoy the sunny weather and make strawberry shortcake and look forward to her full recovery (and tonight’s Game of Thrones).  But so many other mothers and grandmothers (and fathers and grandfathers) are still in places far from their loved ones, without a way to connect with home, without a stimulating book to read, and with nurses and staff who try their best but can’t answer every need.  (Sounds familiar, doesn’t it, library friends?)  Our communal responsibility extends to these folks, and we should do our best to serve them.  If you are a librarian, check out what your institution is doing for these types of populations, and feel free to share them with me and each other.  If they’ve fallen off the radar until now, now’s always a good time to fix that.

Do it for your momma!


  1. I too noted the paltry book choice. Perhaps tat is something some community minded group might take up as a cause-collecting books for the various centers in their locale.

  2. Thank you for this, My Alex.