Macro and Micro Librarianship

In discussing possibilities for the conference session this fall, one of our panelists suggested looking at librarianship through social work’s “macro” and “micro” views. This blog post* provides a critique of the macro/micro divide, but in doing so, it also provides a good, brief introduction:

Macro and Micro social work are interdependent concepts. One cannot be conceptualized without the other. Macro policies drafted at the highest level of government effect the funding, access, and mandates placed on the micro practitioner in every way from staffing of agencies to what is deemed as billable services. Micro practices grounded in evidence and theory professionalize direct practice, and help improve society by both added to existing practice evidence and the improving the lives of individuals and families. Both are essential to proving that our profession is effective in helping to alleviate the social pressures that arise as a natural consequence of industrialized society.

Naming these different approaches within librarianship could be helpful in further defining our own concepts and challenges. I’m only just learning more about this myself, so I’m looking back at some of the things we’ve discussed so far through these lenses. For example, Paul’s post last week addressed our professional ethics at the macro level, while Mary Nienow’s guest post on how to help individuals find health care addressed the micro level (I think–it’s easy to confuse this with a policy/practice divide). While we haven’t named it as such to ourselves, Paul and I have been striving to explore both the macro and micro as we think about the intersection of librarianship and social work. Because neither of us is currently in direct contact with library patrons, for the most part, it’s easy for us to be drawn to the macro level. But I was drawn to the micro level first because I did have my boots on the ground, trying to help people one at a time and determining how that work fits with what has and has not been proven in our professional literature.

In response to our upcoming conference session, a public library manager posed the question in my Twitter feed of where we draw the line between librarians helping patrons and turning that work over to social workers. That’s an excellent micro-level question for us to address here. In her interview with us. PLA President Carolyn Anthony touched on how the puzzle pieces of librarianship and social work fit together when she described her experience organizing the neighborhood information that social workers needed for referrals. Many of us, when we begin to work together directly, will feel out these divisions for ourselves. But what do we do if we’re not working within those deep, harmonious collaborations? Some basic guidelines for interaction will go a long way towards removing the fear of the unknown in this–and I’m beginning to think our conference session should workshop those into existence to share and edit further here.

* It’s also worth looking at what prompted his post, 100 Ways to Promote Social Work Month.

P.S. Because you really need to see it one more time.

Ethical Librarians and the Public Good

One of my interests in this project of examining the intersections of social work and librarianship is to consider how librarians might more visibly champion the public good like social workers do. This post considers two ways that librarians tend to devalue their own work in this vein: first, highlighting libraries as institutions rather than librarians as individuals who do good work, and second, foregrounding the rights of library patrons without a concomitant awareness of the rights and responsibilities of librarians as professionals. For both of these concerns, a turn to librarians’ codes of ethics is helpful for bolstering an understanding of how librarians foster the public good.

In an earlier post on this blog, “Recentering the Public Good,” I noted learning about the American Library Association’s (ALA) Library Bill of Rights in my introduction to library and information science class. However, I do not recall reading about or discussing ALA’s Code of Ethics for librarians during my degree program nor in any other conversations with librarians, which seems par for the course as John Moorman found in a study of library directors’ knowledge of the Code of Ethics. In general, librarians don’t seem to be aware of or to think much about the code of ethics.

What social values do librarians uphold? How do codes of ethics for librarians bolster ethical practices that support the public good?

Here are links to some codes of ethics for librarians:

The first code is the general one for ALA, and the remaining codes (except the last one) are for subunits within ALA or for professional organizations of specific subtypes of librarians. Focusing particularly on the first four (U.S.-based) codes of ethics, librarians value:

  1. privacy (protecting privacy of library patrons, their personal information, and their use of resources),
  2. access (providing information resources to all), and
  3. intellectual freedom (often in terms of fighting censorship).

These values focus on individual rights, particularly of library patrons rather than on the rights and responsibilities of librarians. While these values are great, they shy away from identifying ethical practices for librarians in supporting the public good, instead championing a fairly narrow focus on individuals.

In contrast, the preamble to the ALA Code of Ethics notes:

We significantly influence or control the selection, organization, preservation, and dissemination of information. In a political system grounded in an informed citizenry, we are members of a profession explicitly committed to intellectual freedom and the freedom of access to information. We have a special obligation to ensure the free flow of information and ideas to present and future generations.

This statement is unequivocal in positioning librarians as the active professionals who make information available. This statement also emphasizes an informed citizenry, looking beyond just individual patrons to consider a collective public impacted by librarians’ work.

The last code is by the international organization IFLA, which is interesting in that it also envisions itself as a gathering of people associated with national library associations rather than as a gathering of librarians. The IFLA code, however, seems to differ from the U.S.-based codes in its second ethical proposition, “Responsibilities towards individuals and society.” This proposition is a little more explicitly geared towards the concept of supporting the public good and even of social justice. The code of ethics explains that this proposition supports librarians’ work to fight discriminatory practices in their society that impede individuals’ access to information.

In further comparison, it’s useful to consider the Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social Workers, the national professional organization for social workers (notice how the organization is focused on social workers in a way that the ALA is not fully focused on librarians). The NASW code of ethics very clearly identifies the core values of social work as a profession, underlines how social workers enact those values, and also centers on values of social justice and the dignity and worth of the person.

Although American librarians seem to have long been invested in promoting the public good, it often seems as if ALA and other professional organizations are reluctant to foreground librarians as people who support social services, instead focusing on librarianship in more abstract ways dealing with information resources. In this respect, I think it’s also useful to look at David Lankes’s The Atlas of New Librarianship, a macroscopic re-envisioning of the field in light of new and old challenges. Lankes’s vision is guided by a mission statement he crafted for librarianship: The mission of librarians is to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in their communities. Interestingly, Lankes makes librarians the active agents in this mission (rather than libraries as institutions). Also of note is the centrality of the charge to improve society.

“…And Social Justice for All: How Can Librarians and Social Workers Collaborate?”

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, we have a session coming up at the Minnesota Library Association Annual Conference this fall in St. Cloud. …And Social Justice for All: How Can Librarians and Social Workers Collaborate? will take place on Thursday morning, October 10, 2013, from 10-11am. Here are the details. But more than that, I’m looking for thoughts on what we should discuss and how we should discuss it. Below the session description and the bios of our panelists – who I’m sure will be amazing contributors – are screen shots of my reaching out to ALA Think Tank about this on Facebook. I’m hoping to continue to build on those ideas after this post.


What do librarians and social workers offer each other in their educational paths and on the job? Where has there been successful interaction between librarians and social workers on the job? What are some shared social justice issues that both librarians and social workers address in their working lives? Where do panelists see potential for growth in our overlapping fields? A panel of  librarians and social workers will address these questions and their own collaborative experiences. Audience members are encouraged to ask questions and offer their own suggestions. If you’re not familiar with current work in this area, never fear—we will start with a brief introduction before diving into discussion. Ultimately, this session aims to offer action points as a takeaway, so that participants can follow up on connections and ideas generated by the session.


Sara Zettervall (moderator) is the Associate to the University Librarian at the University of Minnesota. Previously, she was a Substitute Librarian for Dakota County Library (MN) and Project Manager  at the University of Minnesota Performing Arts Archives. Her past work includes creating a pleasure reading collection for a Minneapolis charter high school and leading an after school book club for teen Somali girls, co-led with co-panelist Mary Nienow. She is passionate about and published in issues of social justice in librarianship. She holds an MLIS from St. Catherine University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Michigan.

Amy Mars is a Substitute Librarian in Hennepin County & Dakota County Libraries and teaches information literacy at Minneapolis Community and Technical College.  She is passionate about library outreach and her past work includes initiating library collections in local homeless shelters Hennepin County and publishing a feature article in the March/April 2012 issue of Public Libraries,entitled “Library Services to the Homeless.”  She is currently implementing a grant to extend library programming to senior residences in Hennepin County.

Mary C. Nienow, MSW, is the Director of Internships and Clinical Instructor in the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire’s Department of Social Work, as well as a PhD Candidate in the University of Minnesota’s School of Social Work, focusing on macro practice. She most recently served as the Executive Director of Child Care WORKS, a statewide child care advocacy non profit in Minnesota. Before joining Child Care WORKS, Mary was the lead researcher on Health and Human Services budgets and policy for the Minnesota Senate DFL Caucus.

Jeanne Stevens has more than 25 years of experience working in college, university and public libraries. In 2012, she joined the Hennepin County library’s Outreach Services department as coordinator of the At Home by Volunteer program, which provides library service for homebound individuals. Additionally, she manages the Deposit Collection program, which places mini library collections (books, audiobooks on CD, and more) in 70 senior residences in Hennepin County.  Her newest project is to arrange for volunteers to visit small living facilities, such residential care homes and smaller nursing homes.  She also has an MSW from St. Thomas/St. Catherine’s Universities and worked as a social worker at Lutheran Social Services and St. Paul Public Schools.

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Dominican University’s Joint MLIS/MSW Program

Earlier this summer, I spoke with Susan Roman, Dean Emerita of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Dominican University, about their joint master’s degree program in LIS and social work. I had a chance to ask Professor Roman about her background, her thoughts on the importance of this type of dual degree program, and also how the program got started a few years ago. She explained that the overall goal of the program is to prepare LIS/social work professionals with the skills they need to help library patrons succeed in their lives and careers. This goal combines the more traditional emphases of LIS professionals to provide literacy and information resources with those of social work professionals to help their clients succeed with whatever personal or career issues they are facing.

Roman said that earlier in her career, she worked with the American Library Association to plan a leadership conference on adult services with a focus on older adults. In the process of pulling together resources, she realized that collaborating with social workers was a useful approach to infuse library services with a deeper understanding of and attention to older adults’ needs. In other words, having librarians work with other professionals in social services is important for librarians’ interest in serving their communities. Similarly ALA’s Born to Read program connects librarians with healthcare professionals to promote healthy baby literacy. She also mentioned seeing a public library program in Tennessee awhile back that was heavily geared towards connecting teens in the community to various social services. Overall, she noted that it is not a new idea for librarians to confront and address the needs of community members beyond simply providing books and information.

Roman noted that public libraries are increasingly relying on outreach librarians to go out into communities to connect with people with wide ranging needs and understandings about available resources. She said that public libraries are also increasingly working with growing immigrant populations (to provide federal information, among other types of resources), often with immigrants coming from countries without free public libraries. Immigrants’ lack of experience with the public library institution makes it all the more imperative for librarians to work proactively to connect with people since not everyone understands the kinds of free information and services available in public libraries. She pointed out that, significantly, public libraries provide services to people without requiring proof of need. In contrast, many social service programs require that people demonstrate some need first, which may prove to be a barrier for some people.

In terms of getting the joint degree program off the ground at Dominican, Roman mentioned that Carolyn Anthony (interviewed earlier on this site) was instrumental because she started placing social work student interns in public libraries and really saw the need for librarians to collaborate with social workers to provide both more traditional library resources and social services. The idea for the joint degree gestated for a few years, and a task force of interested faculty and administration at Dominican University gathered information about the types of skills that librarians need in today’s libraries by tapping employers about what they look for in job candidates. The task force identified the central goal for the program, to prepare LIS/social work professionals with the skills needed to help all library patrons succeed. To do so, the joint-degree program obviously provides students with training in both fields while offering a break on some of the course requirements for each degree. The program also helps place students in libraries for their required clinical experiences in social work.

While a joint degree may not be of interest to everyone, it is one form of collaboration between librarianship and social work that could help transform the broader conversations in both fields. There have certainly been social workers who have transitioned to librarianship (Sara and I had at least one peer in our MLIS program who came from a social work background) as well as librarians who have gone on to obtain a master’s in social work in order to pursue a career in social services (for example, Julie Row discussed her experiences in making this transition earlier on this blog). Dominican University’s joint degree program can help send out new professionals into the world with training in both librarianship and social work who can navigate the professional issues of both worlds.