One of the things we would like to do through this blog is to collect bibliographies of research related to the intersection of social work and librarianship. We will also provide brief reviews of some of these articles to serve as starting points for considering the issues that arise in these two fields concerning social and information services.
The Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) has a wiki page on Information Literacy in Social Work that is a starting point for some of this literature review. We encourage people to contribute to that wiki page to expand the list of resources. ACRL is the professional organization for academic librarians who often serve in subject liaison positions to particular disciplines and fields, developing information and reference expertise to help researchers and students in these subjects. There are a number of schools with social work libraries and reference librarians who specialize in helping social work researchers. One of the charges of academic librarians is to teach information literacy, and as such, social work librarians must understand the specific information needs of social workers, the available information resources, and the information-seeking behavior of social workers (and social work researchers–who may be an entirely distinct set of people, as noted by the article I discuss below).
Harrison, J., Hepworth, M., & de Chazal, P. (2004). NHS and social care interface: A study of social workers’ library and information needs. Journal of Librarianship and Information, 36(1), 27-35. doi:10.1177/09610006040429712004
Harrison, Hepworth, and de Chazal’s (2004) “NHS and Social Care Interface: A Study of Social Workers’ Library and Information Needs” is one of the few articles that seems to address social workers’ information needs from a library and information science perspective (or at least using the language of LIS research), and the researchers all come from the LIS profession. The usefulness of a LIS perspective for such questions is the training that LIS researchers have on the infrastructures of information and on understanding how information circulates between people.
Harrison et al.’s article is a decade old now and focuses on a United Kingdom context. (As a side note, my unscientific searches of Twitter for tweets about social work and social workers seemed to retrieve mostly UK tweeters, and I wonder if there is a difference between how social workers in the US and the UK use social media….) Some of their findings are likely no longer current as the information landscape, particularly with computers and Internet communications, has shifted so dramatically in the last decade. Still, it would be interesting to see if there is follow-up research or related studies more recently that might show what has changed for social workers’ information needs in the UK.
Using questionnaires, focus groups, and semi-structured interviews, Harrison et al. gathered data from social workers working in a university hospital setting (generally in multi-disciplinary teams) about how they accessed information to conduct their daily work. The researchers found that social workers depended primarily on a verbal culture, asking colleagues and managers for information and help rather than consulting published information resources (either in paper or electronic). Many of the findings were rooted in social workers’ continued dependence, at the time of the study before 2004, on print publications such as the professional journal Community Care and lack of use of computers and Internet sources. Some respondents noted a desire to use computers more frequently (but were not provided computers at work) and other respondents expressed discomfort or fear of having to learn to use computers (technostress), which they also figured would inevitably involve assuming the secretarial aspects of their work themselves when they are already overwhelmed with work. Finally, Harrison et al. noted that social workers were by and large not consulting current research in the field, neither reading scholarly journals regularly nor looking for specific types of research to guide their practice.
Harrison et al. concluded that many of the problems they identified could best be solved by providing social workers better access to library services and helping them developing stronger relationships with librarians/information specialists. The researchers noted that though the university hospital setting provided well-resourced libraries, social workers often did not have access to them or were not encouraged to use them as much as the medical staff were. They noted that social workers are professionals whose work with people, like the work of medical care staff, is structured by laws and policies governing proper care of the ill and the poor, and thus social workers need to be able to find such information. Furthermore, social workers need these library services to connect them to current research in order to enact evidence-based practices (an important concept in medical care). Working with librarians would allow social workers to find these information resources and alleviate the concerns they have of information overload and lack of time to find publications on their own.
This article identifies one way that librarians/information specialists can work in medical and social services contexts outside of traditional libraries. The authors also help to explain what expertise LIS professionals have in understanding information needs, information-seeking behavior, and other issues concerning knowledge and communication in workplaces. As much as we at this blog are interested in exploring how social workers might help librarians in the public library context to do their work better, we also want to examine how librarians working on other contexts might help social workers do their jobs better as well.
* You can also find the article on Mark Hepworth’s Academia.edu profile.