A Library Run for and by the Patient Community at Riggs
by Aaron Beatty
Libraries continue to serve a vital function in communities both large and small and the Austen Riggs Inn Library is no exception. Because it is only open to the patient community, it contains and retains a unique reflection of the evolving sensibilities, likes and dislikes of Riggs patients. Located in the Inn, where all Riggs patients live for at least the first six weeks of their treatment, the one-room space itself is relatively small, but the ample seating and diverse collection make it both a comfortable and convenient place for patients to spend time.
While there has always been a book filled room in the Inn called the Library, with some books contributed by patients when they left Riggs, the formalization of the Inn Library’s mission, organization and policies has been a more recent development.
According to the Inn Library’s mission statement,
The purpose of the Austen Riggs Inn Library (“the Inn Library”) is to provide the Austen Riggs community with print, audio, video, and electronic materials. The Inn Library’s goal is to enhance the Austen Riggs experience for both Austen Riggs patients and [community] members.
Two Riggs patients are elected by their peers to serve as librarians for eight week terms and work collaboratively alongside a designated Therapeutic Community staff member (currently, Peter Hummel) to manage and run the Inn Library. The work includes weeding out old materials, making new purchases, handling requests from the patient community and otherwise keeping the library organized so that its materials are easy to access.
The elected librarians manage a budget and use local resources to enhance the Inn Library’s collection by attending local book fairs or purchasing material from local book stores. In addition to this work, the Inn Library sponsored a writing contest for the patient community and the space itself occasionally serves as a locale for therapeutic community groups to meet.
The written policies of the Inn Library, developed by patients, spell out the unique circulation policy, which is consistent with the completely open setting at Riggs and with the strong value placed on patient authority:
The Inn Library has an open circulation policy. Patients are welcome to borrow collection materials and remove them from the Inn Library. Patients who borrow materials from the Inn Library are asked to return the materials to the Inn Library as soon as they are finished using the materials.
It is patients who elect their peers to represent their diverse interests and to serve as librarians and stewards of the Inn Library’s collection. In this way and in many others across the patient community and throughout their treatment at Riggs, patients take up their authority and their voice is heard.
Funding for the Inn Library is provided by a donor-funded endowment.