By Mary Wagner, MLS, PhD

Mary Nienow in her blog post, “Why Social Workers Need Librarians,” on April 7, 2013, offers challenging and exciting ideas for intersection of Social Work and Library/Information Science.

Two recent newspaper articles, “How Public Libraries Have Become Spare Homeless Shelters” (AlterNet, March 6, 2013) and “Security Getting Tougher at Downtown Minneapolis Library” (Star Tribune, February 5, 2013), provide current examples of Neinow’s comments.  In both cases city/county social workers are “officing” in the public library, where they search out and assist those with housing and other economic needs.  How do these social workers and the librarians interact in their common goal of serving community members?

There are knowledges and skills unique to each profession.  Given co-location of service, can we think about cross-training between librarians and social workers in the same way librarians and technology experts cross-train in libraries to make seamless service to library users?

As public librarians increasingly claim their libraries to be community gathering spaces, there is need to explore how MLIS programs can expand curriculum to accommodate a more interdisciplinary approach to developing service orientation and skills. Conversation with social workers and social work educators seems to be a starting place.

I am interested in feedback from both social workers and librarians.  How could your work be enhanced by greater knowledge of the others’ work practices?  Where do theories and practices in each discipline support each other?  Where do they clash?  If there is greater interaction between the two disciplines, how will this interaction shape the future of public library space and services?  If there were a one-day conference to explore these topics, would you come? What would you share by way of experiences, topics,  questions?

Please, comments are welcome!

Mary Wagner, MLS, PhD, is Professor Emeritus at Saint Catherine University where she joined the library and information science faculty in 1975. She has helped develop the curriculum in the MLIS program and served as program chair multiple times. She recently returned from Zambia where she spent 2010-2011 on a Fulbright Scholarship teaching at the University of Zambia in Lusaka and helping build library services for children and young adults.