Happy Memorial Day

We’ve taken this weekend off from posting in order to enjoy the holiday (how very America-centric of us!). I could say something here about social justice and the history of paid holidays, but I will spare you and instead point out that, if you didn’t already notice, we’re on Twitter. Follow us at the top of the page, and you can get bonus tweets of relevant stuff we find but don’t go into detail about on the site. Peace out.

Whole Person Librarianship: The Start of a Manifesto

I had the good fortune to spend much of the last week in the company of other smart, enthusiastic librarians on the upswing in their careers at MILE, Minnesota’s local version of ALA’s Emerging Leaders program. Among many other positive aspects of the experience was that it brought together librarians from all types of librarianship (well, maybe not all—we had one token corporate librarian) in a way that focused on our commonalities as professionals and leaders, rather than dividing us by subject area as conferences so often (and understandably) do. As someone who always feels compelled to look for the commonalities in disparate themes, this was especially appealing to me and ties back to what I’ve been grappling with as I think about the trajectory of this blog.

When I started thinking more deeply about how librarians and social workers can help each other, I was working in a public library and looking forward to building a career as a public librarian. When I agreed to work with Paul on this blog, I still had one foot in public librarianship, but that quickly changed as I was hired into my current position as Associate to the University Librarian at the University of Minnesota. Where I’m working has no bearing on the importance of the work public librarians and social workers can do together, of course. Nevertheless, as I said, I’m someone who feels compelled to look for the commonalities in disparate themes, so I couldn’t help but be forced by my new circumstances to do more investigating of the larger implications of combining social work and librarianship. Paul started to touch on that in his post on Recentering the Public Good, when he made the connection between social work’s core values and librarianship’s bill of rights, but there’s still a lot of work we can do to map and explore those connections.

When we started to put the word out that we were launching this blog, I was contacted by a librarian who recently got her PhD, whose dissertation included some truly groundbreaking work on how librarians and social workers can connect and help each other. She was also thinking about starting a blog with a very practical orientation: examples of what’s happening in the field, where practitioners can go and get immediate ideas for their own work. A website like that is not only valuable but necessary to help this kind of collaboration take root. Talking to her about that, though, made me realize I/we need to be able to explain why we want to go beyond the practical to a create a newly defined philosophical underpinning for librarianship itself. This is a daunting task and not something that is going to happen in this post or any single post, but rather through the accumulation of ideas and examples that, hopefully, will happen here.

When I wrote my piece on the launch of this blog for the SRRT newsletter, I was somewhat surprised to discover I was positioning this collaboration with social work in antithesis to the pervasive influence of business theory and practice in librarianship. I hadn’t quite realized until I sat down to explain myself that I was making that connection—one that Paul elaborated on in his prior post as well. But regardless of whether a social work orientation is the antidote to business, I think the way in which business language and thought has infused librarianship is a good example for how I would like to see social work ethics and ideals permeate our work as well. For example, at the end of MILE we sat down to map out the next year of work with a mentor, and we were instructed to create SMART goals. I jokingly sent Paul a message about doing SMART goals yet again, but really, this is a perfect example of how we use business models and terminology without even thinking about it. This is not to say there’s anything wrong with SMART goals—but I’d like to see us talking about, say, a “person in their environment” approach to reference with the same unthinking ease and acceptance.

To that end, I am naming what we do here “Whole Person Librarianship.” Social workers seek to address each client as a “whole person,” seeing them and their needs in the context of the rest of their life and environment. I believe that librarians do that as well, though we haven’t, to the best of my knowledge, put a name to the concept of doing so intentionally and consistently. What is Whole Person Librarianship? What are its precepts, and how can it guide and influence practice? Much of that will be worked out in the coming weeks and months. To help move this along, Paul and I will be establishing a Zotero library to collect relevant research in social work and librarianship, and we will share it with you. We will also start using the WPL perspective to reply to blog posts by other librarians, to demonstrate (and also work out for ourselves) how this interdisciplinary model can be applied in existing theory and practice. I’m purposely putting this idea out into the world before it’s fully formed in the hope that you will help drive and shape it, so that together we can create something meaningful and lasting.

Social Services, Health Information, and Librarianship

The Saint Catherine University MLIS program, organized by the student chapter of the Progressive Librarians Guild, is walking as a team in the Minnesota AIDS Walk next week.


As we’ve been doing some fundraising, I’ve been thinking about the connections between AIDS activism and librarianship. From the early work of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (which provided social services) and the radical politics of ACT UP (which focused on the political nature of the crisis) to more recent work of AIDS activists to continue educating new generations about the epidemic in both the United States and abroad, this form of activism has been about finding and creating networks of social support and information. It has been about connecting people with the information they need for prevention, care, and support, especially about translating specialized medical knowledge for the general public.

Librarians and other information professionals are crucial for the increasingly complex worlds of health informatics and more general health information. Just this week as well, I received an email about a RUSA continuing education course on health information with the following description:

“Health Information 101” prepares librarians to assist their patrons with access to reliable health information resources. Did you know that having librarians on staff who are savvy about health information websites, the business of healthcare and medical terminology can provide a great service to their library users? These skills are especially critical for libraries serving older adults–according to statistics gathered by the National Coalition for Literacy, adults ages 65 and older have lower average health literacy than adults in younger age groups. There’s no better time than May, which is National Older Americans Month, to enroll in this course! CEU credits are available. The course runs May 13-June 30.

This description highlights the need for librarians to understand not just how to access health information resources but also some basics of healthcare and medical terminology–a specific kind of literacy. Librarians’ role, then, is to teach patrons about this complex health information and terminology.

When I read the description, I thought of the importance of librarians working with health professionals, counselors, and social workers who are specialists in these health fields to learn about health resources and information. Instead of simply educating themselves in order to teach patrons, then, librarians can also work to establish networks of information and health specialists in order to provide patrons with the best information, referrals, and other advice.

While I was looking at AIDS information sites, I came across a great example of how librarians are working to connect patrons and social services agencies with the information they need about AIDS prevention, treatment, and care. The AIDS Library in Philadelphia is staffed by librarians who maintain a library and website of information. Their mission statement reads, “The mission of the AIDS Library is to improve access to health and support services, prevent HIV transmission, and continue to nurture life-long learning.” They work directly with both the general public and with the staff of AIDS service organizations. This model of librarians collaborating with social services is intriguing and warrants further exploration.

A Brief History of the Social Workers in the Library Program

This post offers a brief history of the Social Workers in the Library program at San José Public Library, started by Deborah Estreicher, Peter Lee, Glenn Thomas, and Cyndy Thomas. The program brings volunteer social workers into the library for free 20-minute referrals. Members of the National Association of Social Workers, California Chapter staff the program.

Glenn Thomas, Cyndy Thomas, Deborah Estreicher, and Peter Lee
Glenn Thomas, Cyndy Thomas, Deborah Estreicher, and Peter Lee

By Deborah Estreicher

Having worked a couple of decades as a public librarian and encountered many individuals requesting information connected to local sources of social services, I thought how good it would be if we could have social workers on site (who worked in those agencies)  dispensing information /referral and advice to our customers, as  ProBono attorneys do through our Lawyers in the Library program. Since King Library is on the campus of SJSU, I called the School of Social Work, spoke to Professor Peter A. Lee, who thought a fine partnership might be had, and the rest is history.

Peter advertised and found Kristine Chavez, a graduate student who was interested in the possibilities of such a program. With Peter’s guidance, she produced a needs assessment, translated it into Spanish, organized other students to work with her and conducted the assessment on both public and university entrances of the library. After it was determined that a need was there, Peter contacted Glenn and Cyndy, from the National Association of Social Workers – No. Calif.. Chapter, and the Social Workers in the Library began operation in October of 2009.

If not for the interest and enthusiasm of all 3 of these participants…Peter, Glenn and Cyndy, and the support of both San José Public and San José State University Library leadership, SWITL would never have come to be. Professor Lili Luo later joined the team, bringing SWITL international recognition through Libraries 2.011 and the QQML2012 conference, in Ireland.

Deborah Estreicher is a librarian at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr Library, a joint city public library and university library in San José. She has worked with many outreach programs for the public library.

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