Originally published in the Chillicothe Gazette, February 16, 2020
By Jennifer Slone, Access Team Leader
Over the past few years, as small-town economies have suffered and poverty has risen, library reference desks throughout the nation have been inundated with social service requests. Library patrons have immediate needs for things like housing, clothing, and food security, and while we want more than anything to help our patrons find the resources they need, we are library workers, not social workers.
We often struggle keeping up with the abundance of resources available throughout the county. Which food pantries are still operating? What are their hours? Where and when can someone facing homelessness get a hot meal? Which organizations offer transit vouchers? Who provides free clothing for children who have just suffered a house fire? Are there options for someone in a domestic violence situation, before consulting law enforcement?
Those kinds of questions take more time and care than, “Do you have federal tax forms?” (Hint: we do.) or “Can you help my kid find information about volcanoes for a school science fair project?” (Hint: we can.) We can help with lots of things, but we are bound to a Library Code of Ethics that prevents us from handling overly-sensitive personal information, beyond what is needed to register for a library card. In fact, we work to protect patron privacy at all costs. This has put many a library professional at odds with the desire to provide excellent customer service and to truly make a difference in their patrons’ lives.
On Tuesday, February 11, the United Way of Ross County celebrated National 211 Day by launching our county’s own 211 line, a telecommunications service that connects people with relevant, local health and human services. The library is a proud sponsor of this initiative, as it will help us connect our patrons directly to the services they need without the intrusion of their privacy. When you’re in a time of crisis, no one wants the run-around. 211 will help us help our patrons, more professionally and more efficiently.
But you don’t need the library to access 211; it’s available to all Ross County residents from cell phones or landlines, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. All calls are confidential, and help is available in 140 different languages. When you call 211, an information specialist will ask questions to clarify any issues you or your family may be facing, and then they’ll scour the local database for resources that can help.
211 can provide information about: supplemental food and nutrition programs; emergency shelter and housing options; utilities assistance; disaster relief; employment and educational opportunities; services for veterans; health care; addiction prevention and rehabilitation programs; reentry for ex-offenders; support groups; a safe path out of physical and/or emotional abuse; and much more.
The 211 database is updated periodically throughout the year to ensure that information is accurate. An online version of the database will also be available in the near future.
Sponsors are needed to support Ross County 211, and everyone can help by spreading the word about this valuable resource. Tell your neighbor or share it on social media. If you’re interested in sponsoring 211, contact the United Way of Ross County at (740) 773-3280. 211 can not only improve, but save lives!
Jennifer Slone is Access Team Leader at CRCPL, where she manages the library’s digital services as well as the IT, Technical Processing, and Outreach departments. She also serves on the United Way of Ross County’s 211 Committee.