Libraries Team Up with Bill Moyers to Tackle Tough End-of-Life Issues

Article excerpt

NEW PBS SERIES OFFERS FREE PROGRAMMING MATERIALS ONLINE

Libraries in 12 states are playing a major role in an unprecedented national outreach effort supporting a new Bill Moyers television series, On Our Own Terms: Bill Moyers on Dying. A primary component of the outreach strategy is the availability of programming materials such as discussion guides, leadership manuals, and publicity materials on the Web (see box).

Based on two years of research throughout the United States, On Our Own Terms uncovers compelling stories of terminally ill people, their families, and their caregivers, and illustrates the growing struggle to balance medical intervention with comfort and humanity at the end of life. Public Broadcasting System (PBS) stations nationwide will broadcast the four-part series beginning September 10 at 9 p.m. ET (check local listings).

"Americans are thinking about death and dying as we haven't in a long time," says Moyers. "Judith [Moyers' wife and series co-producer] and I believe that after a long period of denial about death in American culture, the public is ready to take death out of the closet and talk about the kind of care we offer the dying and their families in this country....Dying is a natural part of living, and every death should be as individual as the person who lived the life." (See interview for more comments from the Moyerses.)

Eleven public libraries and one medical library are aiding the On Our Own Terms outreach initiative by forming local coalitions of hospices, schools, universities, PBS stations, and other educational and medical groups. In a project funded by a $170,000 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant, the library-led coalitions are sponsoring four public programs in the weeks following the Moyers broadcast. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, based in Princeton, New Jersey, is the nation's largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to health and health care.

Outreach programs include a reading and discussion session; a community panel on palliative care (a type of care that meets emotional and spiritual, as well as physical needs); and a National Issues Forum meeting to debate options for care of the dying. The final program draws upon local expertise in end-of-life issues to identify ways the community can work together to improve care and effect change.

Libraries participating in the project are:

Birmingham (Ala.) Public Library

Sacramento (Calif.) Public Library

Public Library of Des Moines, Iowa

Wichita (Kan.) Public Library

Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore, Maryland

St. Louis (Mo.) Public Library

New York Public Library

Free Library of Philadelphia

Houston (Tex.) Academy of Medicine-Texas Medical Center Library

Salt Lake City (Utah) Public Library

Loudoun County Public Library, Leesburg, Virginia

Madison (Wis.) Public Library.

The grant also provides for limited distribution of programming packages to libraries nationwide.

In Madison, Wisconsin, On Our Own Terms library coordinator Ann Michalski is helping to plan a series of programs and events throughout September, including a performance of Wit, the Pulitzer-Prize-winning play about a dying college professor. The Free Library of Philadelphia has slated a discussion of pediatric palliative care as part of its program. Maryland Public Television will put information about On Our Own Terms programs coordinated by the Enoch Pratt Free Library on its Web site. Des Moines coalition members will use the PBS series and library programs to kick off a longer campaign to encourage people to talk more openly about dying and end-of-life care.

SUSAN BRAN DEHOFF, program director in the ALA Public Pro grams Office, manages the On Our Own Terms library project.

Q & A: Bill and Judith Moyers Talk About Libraries and On Our Own Terms

(Susan Brandehoff submitted written questions to the Moyerses for their comments. …