Library/Social Services Partnership Forums

Businesspeople solving problem

Would building relationships with social services agencies help your library’s community?  Are you interested to provide more support for immigrants?  Are you curious to explore the viability of partnerships with social workers to offer social service referrals and create staff trainings on topics like diversity, poverty, and social justice? 


Join us for a community forum to explore library/social services partnerships.

 Background:  In August, MLS conducted a survey of the interest of Massachusetts library directors to partner with us to facilitate public library/social work partnerships. Over 50 library directors responded to the survey, and over half of the respondents expressed interest to collaborate with us. As a result of the survey, we decided to broaden the scope of this project from social work to social services partnerships.

How can you get involved?

Register to attend the forum at the location most convenient for you. 

What’s the agenda for the forum?

  • Learn about results of the survey and upcoming MLS programs.
  • If interested, share a brief update of your library’s experience. 
  • Participate in an innovation/ideation activity to identify future directions.  

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Graphic Medicine Book Discussion Kits

Do you love to lead book discussions?  Are you interested to support the health literacy of your community?  Then, this interview is for you!  Read on to learn more about graphic medicine book discussion kits freely available to your library from the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, New England Region in this interview with Matthew Noe.

Matthew Noe

Matthew Noe, Graphic Medicine Specialist

What is graphic medicine?

Matthew Noe: Graphic medicine refers to the intersection of comics and healthcare, or more bluntly, comic books about health topics. The field has emerged over the past decade-or-so as comics have grown in popularity and acclaim and as the importance of the humanities in medicine has been more widely recognized. These comics range from short, informational books like Pain is Really Strange to critically acclaimed graphic novels like Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? to children’s comics like Ghosts and Iggy and the Inhalers. Some help us build empathy, while others are meant to teach us something in a fun, accessible way, and the field grows by the day!

 Tell us about the NNLM NER’s Graphic Medicine Book Club Kits. 

The kits are an idea I had while visiting the Ypsilanti District Library, where they built a large graphic medicine collection, including loanable book club kits, via an ALA Will Eisner Grant. The idea is that many of the people who might have an interest in graphic medicine aren’t in a position to purchase the books and/or aren’t familiar with running a book club. Our kits address both of these issues by lending graphic novels and sharing a discussion guide and supplementary consumer health materials from the National Library of Medicine. Right now, we have 11 of these kits, on 10 different health topics – the addiction kit proved so immediately popular that we made a second kit. Each kit is typically lent out for a six-week period and I am available for help in planning and running club discussions.

Graphic Medicine Book Kit Flyer

 How can MLS members obtain the Graphic Medicine Book Club Kits?

The kits are available free-of-charge to organizations within New England and can be requested through a survey link at

What advice would you give librarians interested to lead a graphic medicine book discussion?

Three things come to mind. First: plan, plan, plan! The most successful uses of the kits have come from groups who either have a standing book club program or who have given thought to starting one, while those who struggle are going with a “build it and they will come” mentality. Second: be prepared to facilitate tough, emotionally challenging discussions. Most of our kits are built around graphic memoirs and they’ll have people laughing, crying, and everything in between. Remember not to feel beholden to the discussion guide questions – let the conversation happen as naturally as possible. Third: comics are for everyone, but remember Ranganathan’s Third Law: Every book its reader. Not everyone will enjoy every comic, nor is every comic necessarily for every audience. Be mindful when planning your club!

How did your career path lead you to such an interesting position – Graphic Medicine Specialist?

I get this question all the time! I actually found graphic medicine by accident while working as an intern during graduate school – I was supposed to be finding studies for a radiologist and missed wildly! This was around the same time I was becoming increasingly interested in comics as a reader and how they might be used to teach general literacy. In other words, it was a perfect storm of accidental luck! I spent the rest of my time in graduate school pursuing the field and have now spent the last year building collections and programming at UMass Medical School and NNLM NER.

Anything else you would like to share?

In addition to the book club kits, you can learn more about graphic medicine through this NNLM NER Introduction to Graphic Medicine webinar, meant to provide a wide overview of the field for librarians. Also be on the lookout for a recording of a panel on graphic medicine from the Massachusetts Independent Comic Expo, featuring a panel of comic creators (and me) discussing their approach to medically themed comics!

Interview with Matthew Noe, Graphic Medicine Specialist at the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, New England Region at the University of Massachusetts Medical School

Interviewed by Michelle Eberle, MLS Consultant

Social Justice Program Reflection: Katie Beth Ryan

Katie Beth Ryan

On June 13, 2017, the Massachusetts Library System hosted a Spring Program, Talking Social Justice in Massachusetts Libraries:  Diversity to Equity. The program provided an opportunity for members to learn about social justice and identify actions to promote social justice in Massachusetts library communities. Social justice is a key theme of our strategic plan.   In the spirit of embracing co-creator culture, we invited Katie Beth Ryan, the Information Literacy Librarian at the American International College, to share her thoughts and insights about the spring meeting.  Thank you, Katie Beth, for taking the time to share your reflections!


Tell us about your experience attending the MLS program, Talking Social Justice in Massachusetts Libraries:  From Diversity to Equity.

Katie Beth Ryan (KBR): I had been looking forward to the MLS meeting on diversity, equity and social justice since I first saw the announcement for the program earlier in the spring. I was especially excited to see April Hathcock, whose blog and Twitter feed I follow, was the keynote speaker. I found myself feverishly taking notes during her talk, and during the afternoon talk by Alli Gofman and Ann Marie Willer from the MIT Libraries.

What take-away stuck with you most since attending the program?

KBR: It’s hard to name just one nugget of wisdom I took away from this day since so many were shared. I appreciated hearing how the MIT Libraries have incorporated diversity and equity principles into each aspect of library work, including outreach activities and hiring. I work at an institution much smaller than MIT, but Gofman and Willer offered perspective on scalability. Regardless of your work environment, you need to carefully identify your climate, audience, and the needs of your institution.

How will you integrate what you learned into your professional and personal life?

KBR: Since attending the program, I’ve been thinking of ways to incorporate principles of equity into my work, whether it’s including my preferred pronouns into my email signature, or creating thought-provoking library displays. I also walked away from the meeting with ideas for how to constructively confront others on biases and microaggressions. Overall, the meeting pushed me to continue to educate myself on whiteness, both in the LIS profession and in society as a whole, and to consider what steps I can take to make my library environment a truly welcoming, diverse and inclusive place for all who study and work there.

What further support would you like MLS to provide to foster social justice in Massachusetts libraries?

KBR: I’ve attended a few MLS webinars and have found them valuable. I’d love to see MLS build upon the momentum of the spring program by offering webinars on diversity and social justice topics within libraries. These would be one way of reaching people who were not able to attend the meeting, and to continue the conversation among librarians throughout the Commonwealth.

What other reflections would you like to share?

KBR: I’ve spent a lot of time thinking critically about how I can support and affirm people of color, LGBTQ people and immigrants. As Hathcock noted in her talk, libraries have long been a place pervaded by whiteness. We need to be committed to building diversity with our profession, so that it reflects the demographics of our country, and supporting colleagues of color. I appreciate MLS offering librarians a chance to consider how we can break down oppression within libraries.

Interview with Katie Beth Ryan, Information Literacy Librarian at the American International College

 Interviewed by Michelle Eberle, MLS Consultant

The Opioid Epidemic: Your Library Can Help

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services reports that, “Our nation is in the midst of an unprecedented opioid epidemic. More people died from drug overdoses in 2014 than in any year on record, and the majority of drug overdose deaths (more than six out of ten) involved an opioid.” Concerned about this tragedy and interested to identify ways that libraries can help alleviate the opioid epidemic, I reached out to Fred Newton, President & CEO of Hope House Addiction Services in Boston,  who served on Governor Baker’s Opioid Working Group to inquire about his views on how we can help.  Thank you to Fred for taking the time to share his personal thoughts and insights.

Fred Newton, President & CEO, Hope House

Michelle Eberle (ME): How can librarians help alleviate the opioid crisis in Massachusetts?  

Fred Newton (FN): Librarians should become trained in the administration of Narcan. Narcan™ (naloxone) is a prescription medicine that blocks the effects of opioids and reverses an overdose. It may seem unlikely that a person would overdose in a library, but any place with public rest rooms may see an increased risk.  Staff should be trained and carry Narcan always!

Librarians should become familiar with the State Without Stigma” and “Good Samaritan Law campaigns, to educate others that substance use disorders are a medical disease that need intervention and not morality or shame!  The Good Samaritan Law provides safety for people who report suspected drug activity.

Librarians should collaborate with local elementary and secondary schools to coordinate the educational needs of their community’s response to the opioid epidemic. In part, emphasizing the imperative to avoid discarded used syringes because of the potential lethality. Calling local municipal public works and public health departments about the discarded syringes is critical. In Boston call 311.

Librarians should to be familiar with the signs and symptoms of opioid use when people (family and friends) are seeking this information regarding a loved one. In part, those signs and symptoms may include: noticeable elation/ euphoria, marked sedation/drowsiness, confusion, constricted (“pinned”) pupils, slowed breathing, intermittent nodding off, or loss of consciousness.

Lastly, librarians should become aware of and conversant in Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT), including Opioid Treatment Programs (OTPs), which combine behavioral therapy and medications to treat substance use disorders. Examples of MAT include, methadone maintenance and Suboxone (combination of buprenorphine/naloxone).

(ME) What key recommendations in the action plan are most relevant for librarians?

(FN) Narcan has saved more lives than any other intervention!

Substance Use Disorders, including Opioid Use Disorders are a medical condition. Diagnostic criteria for these and other “disorders may be found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM5),

Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) can save lives

Each community has its own special needs and considerations. Librarians must be in tune with what they are.  Many communities have groups with titles like “(town) drug and alcohol coalition,” which include representatives from police, fire and ambulance services, city or town delegate, public health nurse, school official, concerned citizens and others.

Poster from Mass Health Promotion Clearinghouse

Poster from Mass Health Promotion Clearinghouse

Make sure there are appropriate flyers and posters on display to stop the stigma, and offer information and help for people who are dealing with the crisis.  Flyers and posters in discreet areas are helpful to those who can’t ask for help, publicly.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has an information helpline at 1-800-327-5050 or

(ME) What type of community programs would you like to see public libraries and school libraries offer that would help alleviate the opioid epidemic?

(FN) Host expert educational talks on different aspects of substance use disorders, e.g., “The progression of the disease”.  Many people think that it is just a phase that the person is going through, or take the attitude of “s/he is only drinking alcohol all kids do that”.  Another topic is the effects of a substance use disorder on the family members.  How do other families act or react?  Inviting a person in the community to publicly talk of their substance use disorder and recovery can be very powerful. Host family support groups, like “Learn to Cope” or “Alanon.”

Providing any kind of positive alternatives to alcohol and drug use, gang involvement, etc. is critical.
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Nahant Public Library STOP LYME Project

Ick! It's a tick!

Ick! It’s a tick!

Thank you to Sharon Hawkes, Director of the Nahant Public Library, and Margot Malachowski, Education & Outreach Coordinator at the National Network of Libraries of Medicine for sharing their experience with the STOP LYME project, a multi-faceted public health partnership.

Tell us about your community partnership.

Sharon Hawkes (Nahant Public Library Director):  The STOP LYME project was both a local and statewide partnership to do two things: deliver good information about tick-borne disease to our patrons and to show that libraries can scale up to help deliver state information to the public. The state legislature had recently voted favorably on a Lyme insurance bill and they were concerned that constituents understand the new law. So we thought this might be the right topic at the right time. Plus, tick-borne disease is a serious problem in Massachusetts! So we created 4 resources to fulfill the goal of providing information in multiple formats:

  • The STOP LYME Handbook, a binder of state and other reference material for libraries. It was delivered to them using Optima, and was uploaded to the BiblioBoard ebook platform.
  • Six ebooks on various aspects of tick-borne diseases, purchased through MLS for Axis 360.
  • The “Ick, a Tick!” forum, with speakers Catherine Brown (Mass DPH), Dr. Samuel Donta (Infectious Diseases Society of America), Margot Malachowski (NN/LM), and Lawrence Dapsis (Cape Cod Co-op Extension). The forum was videotaped by local cable television and is archived on YouTube.
  • An online database website, the Lymebrary.

Speakers at the “Ick, a Tick!” forum (l. to r.): Catherine Brown, Mass DPH; Samuel Donta, MD; Margot Malachowski, National Network of Libraries of Medicine; and Lawrence Dapsis, Cape Cod Cooperative Extension

The project involved 5 partners: Nahant Public Library; the Massachusetts Department of Public Health; the Town of Nahant; Nahant Health Agent John Coulon; and health librarian Margot Malachowski of the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, New England Region. Additional advice came from Cape Cod Cooperative Extension, the Laboratory of Medical Zoology at UMass Amherst, and Barnstable County Department of Health. It was funded by the National Library of Medicine.

I had hoped to have a dozen libraries sign on to receive the binder of information. Instead, 132 separate libraries said “yes!” And many of them went above and beyond by cataloging the Handbook for circulation, creating book displays, and hosting programs on tick-borne disease.   Continue reading