I’ve been watching the growth of social workers in libraries with great interest.
I think the first I heard of the idea was when San Francisco Public Library got one. Now it’s spreading to other urban centres across the US and Canada – Winnipeg, Edmonton, Thunder Bay are just a sample of some Canadian libraries where this idea has been implemented.
(Something I hadn’t come across before researching this post but which also makes sense is that some libraries are also adding Public Health Nurses to their staff complements as well.)
Today, I see that Kitchener Ontario has become the latest public library to have a social worker available to provide those specialized skills and knowledge that library staff simply don’t have though they try their best:
Even in the absence of such formal programs, librarians often feel they must help users find shelter, food, and other public services, as more and more people seem to fall between the cracks. Partly, this is because they get to know patrons, especially those who come in on a regular basis.
I can’t see too many downsides for everyone involved – although libraries value their role as an open and accessible space for all citizens, they also aren’t meant to act as daytime homeless shelters. So having a social worker on staff helps disadvantaged patrons to get the external supports they need, it reduces the need for library staff to act as quasi-social workers, it makes for a more comfortable and inviting space for other patrons who are using the library if they encounter fewer people who are using the library as a homeless shelter/shower stall/self-injection site because they’re being directed to other agencies better suited to provide those services.
I’m not even at RPL’s Central Library but I have a long list of interactions where I’ve felt more like a social worker than a librarian at my branch – trying my best to help patrons who are homeless and/or addicted and/or mentally ill and/or dealing with all other manner of personal issues.
Honestly, in some ways, it’s a part of the job I enjoy the most. But at the same time, I often feel like I’m “making it up as a I go along” since I don’t have the in-depth formal training that would likely result in better overall outcomes for so many of the people I interact with regularly who would benefit from the knowledge and guidance of a professional social worker.