Spectrum of Collaboration

In this post, I’d like to suggest a spectrum of collaboration between librarians and social workers. In addition to addressing why there is a need for librarians to work with social workers and vice versa, we also want to acknowledge that there are a number of ways that this kind of intersection might work to the advantage of all involved. In general, we hope that collaborations can help to break down the silos of practice that are all too common in all professional fields, where people are not looking to others doing similar or intersecting work and therefore often recreating the wheel in coming up with solutions to shared problems. Furthermore, such collaborations, even at a very informal level, should help to increase communications between professionals and thereby strengthen practice of all kinds.

Here, then, in increasing levels of complexity, formality, and commitment (of time, energy, and education), are ways that students and professionals in librarianship and social work might collaborate.

  • Informal conversations between librarians and social workers about our shared work, especially where we might learn from each other about common issues and the people we serve. These conversations might be over coffee or lunch. They might be about a concrete issue or just a general discussion of the work that we do.
  • Events, book groups, or other micro-learning opportunities that bring librarians and social workers together to explore a discrete issue. These opportunities can be ad hoc or more sustained (such as in a regular book group or a series of conversations over the course of a year).
  • Attendance at each other’s professional conferences (librarians going to social work conferences such as for the NSWA or social workers going to library conferences such as with the ALA). Hearing how professionals in an allied field might deal with shared concerns would be useful. Also, conferences provide numerous networking opportunities.
  • Presentations at one’s home professional conference about intersections with the other field. Such presentations would help make others in our own fields aware of the possibilities of collaboration with professionals in the other field. Sara Zettervall will be chairing a panel at the Minnesota Library Association’s fall 2013 conference, for example, on collaborations with social workers.
  • Presentations at each other’s professional conferences. More formal engagements with the ideas and issues of each other’s professional fields would help encourage the type of dialogue necessary to explore intersections productively. (Mary Nienow, who contributed an early post to this blog, will be sharing her perspective as a social work professional on the panel organized by Sara.)
  • For students and faculty… courses that encourage students in librarianship to think about social work and vice versa. These courses would remain geared towards one group of students (such as LIS students) but involve guest speakers and discussions of ideas, methodologies, and approaches from the other profession. Sara and I are currently working on a proposal to create a one-credit course in this model for the LIS program at St. Catherine University and hope to solicit feedback and discussion on the proposal from you all in the near future.
  • Shared courses between MLIS and MSW programs with students from both programs in each class. This more integrated exchange of ideas would also encourage dialogue between students and faculties in different programs. The shared classroom space would encourage further points of contact that could develop into rich, collaborative relationships between professionals in the future.
  • A joint or dual degree program in MLIS and MSW. This more formalized exploration of how librarianship and social work might contribute to a professional identity and practice that synthesizes insights from the two professions is a newer possibility but one that is likely to gain traction in the coming years. We have a couple of upcoming posts engaging with this idea via interviews with the folks who have helped establish such a joint program at Dominican University.

There are likely other models of collaboration, and we would love to hear of them if you have had experience with bridging librarianship and social work.

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