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.