Mary Frances Bruckmeier, RN, BSN, walked through the library past rows of books to a small table next to a colorful wall displaying children’s drawings from a local elementary school. She wore a navy blue shirt, jeans and a stethoscope. As she was about to sit down at the library table, a man approached her.
“What exactly do you do here?” he asked, gesturing to the room.
“I’m a library nurse,” Bruckmeier said.
Bruckmeier is a public health nurse with the Pima County Health Department in Tucson, Ariz. Several times a week, she explained to the man, she spends her days at the Pima County Public Library, where she helps anyone in need seeking healthcare. After talking with Bruckmeier awhile, the man shared that he identified himself as a “functioning alcoholic” and is HIV-positive. Bruckmeier discussed treatment options and provided him with helpful resources.
According to the American Library Association, people turn to and depend on libraries and librarians for help in times of economic hardship. Libraries are now safe havens for people in need, including the homeless, mentally ill, immigrants, abuse victims and the impoverished. Many libraries have services for these visitors such as congregation areas for programs and resources, but now for the first time in history, some libraries also offer healthcare services.
Bruckmeier helps her library patients with hygiene, behavioral issues, immunizations, and substance abuse issues. She also assists with personal and legal issues, and directs people to the appropriate channels to help with healthcare, transportation, getting valid ID, or setting up appointments, as many of these individuals do not have access to a phone. Bruckmeier considers herself an objective resource, advocate and caregiver for her patients.
“Nurses need to be accessible in order to help people,” Bruckmeier commented. “Like many other nurses, I am used to wearing many different hats to be able to help individuals in need when the opportunity presents itself.”
The Pima County Library Nurse Program and several other libararies in the area were the first libraries in the country to have a library nurse program. The program, launched in 2012, consists of a team of library nurses who work with the Pima County Health Department. Library nurses provide services such as nursing assessments, case management, blood pressure screenings, nutrition guidance and health education.
According to Bruckmeier, the library nurse program at Pima County Library is well known and well-received in Tucson.
“I know I’ve made a difference in someone’s life when they tell me that I am the only person who has made eye contact with them in days,” Bruckmeier said. “These are usually homeless people who are just looking for someone to talk to or interact with. Many of them know me by name and have walked up to greet me as I come into the library.”
According to Bruckmeier, the library nurse program addresses social issues in the community such as poverty and homelessness by assisting people with not just their personal and social needs but healthcare needs as well, which is a more well-rounded approach that makes the library nurse program a valuable asset to the community.
“As a public health nurse, I saw the library nurse program as an opportunity to help people in my community who need it most in a non-threatening and comfortable environment,” said Bruckmeier. “The program allows library nurses to connect with people on a personal level and provide patients with more than just care, but also a support system.”