#MacroSW chat for 3/15/2018: The emerging social work role in public libraries.

During Social Work Month, let’s celebrate a special facet of our practice: social workers are team members. We are found in hospital units, community planning organizations, and in many other formal or informal groups. While not as pronounced, social workers have become more active in the environment of the public library.  Examples of this growth in social work presence include Denver, Colorado, where a library social worker addresses needs of people who are homeless; an Anchorage, Alaska library social worker addressing homeless needs there; a social worker addressing mental health needs of community members at the St. Paul Public Libraries; and social workers aligned with the Richland, South Carolina library system, where patrons can schedule appointments via a web portal.

What factors are behind this increased social work presence? It’s worth observing that librarians, educators, and other civil servants have led the change to adapt library environments to community needs. in Fergusen, The Public Library became a safe haven during the riots there (Inklebarger 2014). As noted, social workers have emerged as part of a library’s staff to address immediate needs of the public, including people who are homeless, support groups, and expanded public health needs (Blank, 2014). Social workers align with this mission. However, libraries continue to face political opposition, which threatens their mission and existence. As states and communities face budget reductions, libraries are seen as targets to mitigate revenue losses.

For tonight’s chat, we will consider the role of social workers in the library environment as an area of practice, as well as a solution in the ways community and state policies, are shifting resources and priorities. What is the view of our library? How does social work fit with the core values of libraries, and how can we provide support and expertise?

Photo credit: Annalynchia (2009) Flickr.com  – Creative Commons https://www.flickr.com/photos/x_revolutionaries/3467204884/

Possible discussion questions for the live chat:

  1. How does the library in your community or school serve its clientele?
  2. How is the library changing in your community? What have you experienced?
  3.  How do social workers assist and support libraries?
  4. What ideas do you have about social workers in library environments?
  5. What more can we do to address the needs of the community in this space?
  6. What larger policy (macro) issues do we need to be aware of?

If you are an educator wanting to incorporate this chat as an assignment in your class, please click here for details. We hope you can join us! Please contact Stephen if you plan to have your class or maybe student groups participate in the chat. He will also welcome your questions.


American Library Association (2016, May 19). “Serving At-Risk Patrons: Lessons from Library Social Workers” . Retrieved from:  http://www.ala.org/tools/programming/serving-risk-patrons-lessons-library-social-workers (Accessed March 13, 2018). Document ID: 798b37c2-f0a9-eb94-79f2-c43df076d9bc

Blank, B.T. (2014). Public libraries add social workers and social programs. The New Social Worker Magazine. Retrieved from: http://www.socialworker.com/feature-articles/practice/public-libraries-add-social-workers-and-social-programs/

Inklebarger, T. (2014, November 10). Fergusen’s safe haven: library becomes refuge during unrest. American Libraries, retrieved from: https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/2014/11/10/fergusons-safe-haven/

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