Social Work and Academic Libraries

While public libraries are clearly at the forefront of most considerations of the overlap between social work and librarianship, we are also interested in thinking beyond the on-the-ground issues faced by public librarians in providing social services referrals and information. As Sara Z. mentioned in her post, Whole Person Librarianship, this blog is part of a larger project to rethink the basis of librarianship, to foreground concerns for the whole person and the public good. We are looking for ways to engage social work mentality in addition to places where librarians interact with social workers. Considering some other sites of contact between librarians and social workers provides more opportunities for thinking about how to shift thinking in librarianship towards the whole person.

One important place where librarians deal with social workers (in training) and with social work information is in academic libraries as liaisons to programs in social work. A quick scan of a few job ads for social work librarians (for example, at UMD and FGCU) suggests that, like many other academic librarian positions, a separate academic degree or background in the subject field (at least an undergraduate major) is often preferred if not required. However, academic library liaison positions rely heavily on library school training to prepare liaisons to provide the specific information needs of their subjects and to be able to work closely with faculty and students in conducting research in their fields.

Here are some questions I have about social work librarians’ jobs:

  • What are some of the information resources that social work librarians deal with in particular? The Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) has a small bibliography of information literacy in social work resources. It is also easy to find many pathfinders created by academic librarians for social work resources as well.
  • How do they social work librarians provide information literacy instruction and research help for social work faculty and students?
  • Do social work librarians conduct their own research on the information seeking behavior of social work researchers and social workers? What are some distinctive behaviors and issues?
  • What kind of academic background helps social work librarians engage fully with social work researchers and practitioners?
  • What kind of practical (on the job) background helps social work librarians engage fully with social work researchers and practitioners?
  • It is also worth keeping in mind that accreditation for schools of social work usually include required library resources. For example, Texas State University, San Marcos has a librarian’s report for accreditation online. In what ways, via curriculum planning, can librarians help social work programs achieve their goals?
  • What types of experiences might library students and librarians explore to prepare them for social work librarianship if they do not have academic backgrounds in the field?

Social work librarians in the academic library are in a privileged position to explore the intersection of librarianship and social work since they have both the training and the on-the-job interactions to bring the two worlds together. Furthermore, their backgrounds may allow them to understand more fully how social workers think and practice an engagement with their clients as whole persons.

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