Dealing with Special Challenges
People with Mental Illness and Other Special Needs
Mark Willis, Dayton Metro Library
We’re used to all kinds of people visiting our library and after awhile it takes a lot to
rattle us. Those customers who show signs of mental illness are still confusing and
upsetting even to some of the toughest library veterans. What do you say to
someone who is wandering around holding an animated conversation with no one?
Or to the person who insists the government is using the library to collect his
We want to keep control in our libraries and people with bizarre behaviors threaten
that control. It is possible to work with most behaviors in a way that allows our
library to function yet still permits the patron with mental illness to use the facility.
Recognizing that we will likely encounter people with mental illnesses at our
library, here are some reasonable goals:
1. Increase our understanding of mental illness.
“Mental illness” is a broad term used to cover a variety of afflictions where a
person’s thinking differs significantly from other people. This means that their
illnesses are significant enough to interfere with employment, attendance at school
or daily life. The symptoms and illness vary almost as widely as physical illnesses.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, up to 50 million Americans –
more than 22 percent – suffer from a clearly diagnosable mental disorder in any
Plain old stress
Intermittent Explosive Disorder (road rage)
2. Learn effective methods of communicating with mentally ill people who are
creating a disturbance in the library.
3. Protect staff and patrons in rare instances of possible violence.
The people we have to concern ourselves with are those who are not getting
treatment, the treatment is not successful, have quit taking their medication or for
some reason cannot control the...
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