Suicide Prevention in the Library
Current Service Offerings and Future Opportunities
As an important frontline community center, libraries play a vital role in connecting people to resources, services, and materials that meet their holistic needs. Over the past decade library services have grown to address the acute need for mental health and crisis support, especially in light of the growing issue of college students’ mental health. With suicide a leading cause of death in the United States, now increasing after a period of decline, efforts to help reduce factors that increase risk of suicide and promote factors of resilience—commonly referred to as suicide prevention—have become a priority support area for both academic and public libraries alike.
As part of the public-academic library partnership project, we are currently collecting information about library services that address basic needs at public and community college libraries. In the process, we are discovering how libraries contribute to suicide prevention efforts and how suicide prevention is being integrated into resources and services that holistically support patrons and library community members. Today we share some of the themes we observed across libraries’ suicide prevention efforts and reflect on what this may suggest in terms of future opportunities for libraries and librarians to consider.
Across the US, public and academic libraries offer a variety of programs to support suicide prevention efforts. Some libraries aim to take an integrative approach by providing patrons with access to social workers who can connect them to counseling services, crisis centers, and other resources and services related to mental health needs. The St. Paul Public Library, for example, has a dedicated webpage that directs patrons to the on-staff social worker—with information on what to expect, how to contact them, what they can help with—as well as information about a suicide prevention lifeline and crisis support.
Libraries also use trainings and workshops to raise awareness for suicide prevention. In some cases, libraries partner with groups that specialize in crisis support and suicide prevention; for example, the Boston Public Library collaborated with the Stepping Strong Injury Prevention Program from Harvard University to host a one-hour training modeled on the “Question, Persuade, and Refer” (QPR) intervention method. Similarly, the Jefferson County Public Library provided an ASIST Suicide Intervention Skills two-day workshop. The Long Beach Public Library partnered with a local veterans affairs’ medical center to provide veterans suicide prevention awareness in an effort to address the unique needs of this community.
The primary approach libraries take to integrate suicide prevention into their programming occurs during National Suicide Prevention Month in September. Throughout the month, libraries organize events that focus on sharing resources and materials about the issue of suicide, such as the Pop Up Library hosted by the Libraries at North Dakota State University. Iowa State University’s Field of Memories event, for instance, was a cross-unit collaboration on campus to grieve, honor, and remember the lives of college students lost to suicide in an effort to raise awareness for suicide prevention. The ISU event is particularly powerful because it sheds light on suicide as a leading cause of death among college-aged Americans (those aged 15-24). In response to the growing issue of college students’ mental health, some states are passing laws that require colleges and universities to implement suicide prevention programs and crisis support trainings, like this law in New Jersey.
Information resources and guides
While many libraries provide suicide prevention programs, events, and workshops during National Suicide Prevention Month, some libraries have started to develop online resource guides and special collections to provide information about suicide on an ongoing basis. Special curation of the library’s circulating collections, such as through reading lists or collection displays, is one way for libraries to connect patrons to suicide prevention resources. A notable example is the special collection of materials funded and selected by a local suicide prevention taskforce at the Meyersdale Public Library.
To make information about suicide prevention more readily accessible, libraries typically assemble resource guides. The format of these guides tends to vary between academic and public libraries. While academic libraries tend to provide research guides for those who are interested in studying suicide—like this one from the College of the Redwoods—prevention resources are embedded within those guides. Public libraries share resources and information through community resource webpages, such as this example from the Santa Clara County Library District. Other public libraries have designed dedicated health and wellness resource guides that provide links to suicide prevention lifelines or hotlines, such as this guide from the Denver Public Library.
How can libraries continue to build suicide prevention efforts?
Since libraries can provide safe harbor for so many, this puts them in a unique position to contribute to the important work of suicide prevention in their communities. As most libraries are just at the beginning stages, there are several noteworthy and powerful opportunities for growth in developing programming and providing tailored services for suicide prevention. For instance, additional research is needed to more systematically develop effective and evidence-based approaches to how libraries can continue to build suicide prevention efforts as well as how to create support for library staff who deliver these programs and service offerings.
There is a need for resources that enable librarians to transition from providing suicide prevention programming during National Suicide Prevention Month to an ongoing basis. There is also ample opportunity for libraries to build partnerships with suicide prevention organizations, such as the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). By partnering with suicide prevention organizations and groups, libraries can share data, information, resources, and a host of prevention materials—ranging from suicide statistics, risk factors, and warning signs to practical information for grieving someone who died by suicide. They will also be better equipped to address the unique needs of at-risk communities. Lastly, there is the opportunity to work closely with experts in suicide prevention to develop community programs and resources specifically tailored for children and teens.
We will be continuing to track this issue and if your library is doing work in this area we would love to hear from you. If you’d like to be in touch, please reach out to Sage Love (email@example.com).
If you are in crisis, please call, text or chat with the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988, or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.
Thank you to Melissa Blankstein, Danielle Cooper, and Joani Wolfe for their thoughtful engagement in the process of developing this post.