LIS 7961: Whole Person Librarianship

Sundays, January 5, 12, 19, 26, 2014
12:00-4:00pm CDC 20
St. Catherine University

Mary Nienow, MSW, Clinical Instructor and Director of Internship, Department of Social Work, UW-Eau Claire
Sara Zettervall, MLIS, MFA, Associate to the University Librarian, University of Minnesota

“I may not be a social worker, but I know how to find one for you.” Would you feel confident saying this to a library patron? Do you wonder what social workers do and why you should know? Social workers and contemporary American librarians share a common grounding in the great populist movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and our work continues to overlap today in outreach to diverse and at-risk populations. Whole Person Librarianship builds on the social worker’s call to serve the “whole person” by seeing patrons as experts on their own experiences within the full context of their lives. In this class, you will begin to learn what social work can teach librarians about embedding social justice in our professional ethics, and you will have the opportunity to offer practical assistance to connect Minnesota libraries with social work resources.


A change to the site and a call for participation

This site started with the intention of promoting a discussion of how librarianship and social work come together. We’ve had some amazing content to share over the seven or so months of weekly posts – but we’re also finding it challenging to bring in new voices beyond our core participants. Meanwhile, our work on Whole Person Librarianship continues outside of what you see on this blog. In recognition of the function this blog is already playing, we are officially refocusing this blog to be a public documentation of our work as it happens. What that means is we will still welcome discussions and contributions, but we will no longer be following a weekly posting schedule and will instead include content as it arises from our research and teaching projects.

To that end, as Mary Nienow and I plan to co-teach the WPL class this January, we’re interested in giving students a project that would partner them with working librarians to find social work resources in their communities. If you’re interested in learning more and/or signing on, please contact me or reply to this post. I’ll be back soon with more info on the class.


“I’m not a social worker, but I know how to find you one.”

Coming out of a very successful session at this year’s Minnesota Library Association conference, that’s the statement we’d like every librarian to feel confident to make to patrons. But how do we reach that end? Our full session room – 40 people – held an intense discussion on the intersection of librarianship and social work that was only the beginning of our work on Whole Person Librarianship. That work continues here as we continue to build this site as a shareable resource, and – news flash! – it will also continue as a 1-credit January (J-term) class at St. Kate’s. One of many great things about this is that J-term classes have the dual intent of serving as for-credit classes for students and as lower-fee audit options for professional development for practitioners. This class will be an opportunity to delve into the questions raised by our session and begin to build an infrastructure for continued education that can be replicated in other situations, e.g. your own library system.

Session notes (notes by Mary Nienow; additional comments are my own):

  • Reminders of social norms
  • Social control vs. social service
  • Libraries as a safe space
  • Mental health issues – social behavior
  • Outreach to patrons – help with behaviors
  • Social services for non-English patrons
  • Safe space policies in the library

We talked a good deal about challenging behaviors by patrons, and social work can certainly educate us in how to set boundaries and deal with those. But, we also want to focus on the positive. As the Unshelved guys said the next day, policies are a direct result of someone’s misbehavior. In our session, together we suggested writing positive policies the establish the library as safe space and say things like, “you can always come here and use a computer, even if you don’t have a card.” Why not be as explicit about the good things we offer as we are about the things people can’t do?

  • What does best service look like?
  • How far do we as librarians go? What are our boundaries and our roles?
  • Practice experience – need training?
  • Needs assessment – partnership with social workers
  • One relationship at a time

We also focused a great deal on relationships. Relationship-building is key to the social work practice of serving the “whole person.” What can social workers teach us about setting appropriate boundaries while effectively serving our patrons? What can we learn from them about interviewing a patron on a sensitive topic to provide the best service without becoming too personal?

  • Partnership through service projects
  • Staff training – social work – libraries
  • Embracing new practice
  • Professional to professional connections to serve patrons
  • Social service structures in the community (rural vs. urban)
  • Micro vs. macro needs
  • Consistent and collaborative approach among staff and security
  • Missouri libraries mental health resource: www.librarian411.org

These points refer to suggestions for practice going forward. Some are addressed further in the areas where we would like your help building answers on this site, detailed below. Student service projects in both librarianship and social work can provide great opportunities to try out new, collaborative ideas, and we will continue to work on establishing training opportunities for librarians to learn more about social work theory and practice. One takeaway is to think more about macro practice – i.e., policy setting that goes beyond the dollar ask of our libraries.

Areas where we can use your help:

  • Where can/do you reach out to social workers in your area? We’d like to share that information more broadly.
  • If you don’t know the resources in your area but would like us to find out, contact me and let me know.
  • Do you know of any existing, successful staff trainings on these issues? For example, the Hennepin County Library staff sessions on working with homeless patrons might be a good place to start. Are there sessions you’ve found online? Maybe a group of us could try them together and review them.
  • As you go forward, if you collaborate with social workers in your community, we would love to hear your reports. Success can be a model for others, and “less than success,” while scary to share, can be at least as beneficial for the learning experiences of others.
  • With regards to the J-term class, I will continue to work on that publicly, here, and the more feedback I can get from you on the content, the better it will be. Please continue to watch this site, participate in discussion by commenting on blog posts, and referring other interested librarians to what we’re doing.

Contact me, Sara Zettervall, at any time. I, Mary, Amy, and Jeanne thank you for a productive and inspiring session.


Information Literacy Needs of Social Work Students

Before I dive into a brief review of a few articles published by academic librarians about the information literacy needs of social work students, I wanted to remind everyone that Sara Zettervall will be leading a session, “…And Social Justice for All: How Can Librarians and Social Workers Collaborate?,” at the upcoming Minnesota Library Association conference. The session is Thursday morning, October 10, 2013, from 10-11am. Hope to see you there!

In an earlier post “Social Work and Academic Libraries,” I asked some questions about what academic librarians whose subject areas include social work might do to help social work students, faculty, and practitioners find necessary information for work in the field. I quickly did a search in the library literature for studies on social work and information literacy instruction and found a few articles that offer some useful points. Of note is that each of these studies focuses just on one program at the authors’ own institutions and thus are not meant to provide generalizable results. However, each of the articles suggests particular trends in the field of social work education and practice that are evident at the individual institutions. Here, in no particular order, are some of observations from the articles:

  • The rapid growth of information technologies has transformed the way social workers must do research in their jobs and created a rift in experience and expertise for finding accurate and up-to-date information.
  • Graduate students in MSW programs are (at least in the studied institutions) mainly nontraditional students, sharing a few characteristics such as having taken time off academic study, being older and thus having learned to conduct research before the information technology revolution, and pursuing their degrees part-time while holding down jobs and raising families. These characteristics structure the way the students understand library and information resources as well as how they can access them. Concerns not typical for traditional students (coming directly from college with no break in education and going to school full time without family responsibilities) might include need for child care to use the library, lack of computer literacy, and less time to conduct library research.
  • Students in general tend to overestimate their abilities to find published research although social work students, in at least one study, were less confident in their abilities than other graduate students.
  • Key elements of information literacy that social work students tend not to have any background in include knowledge of research and publication cycles, understanding of different databases and their difference from library catalogs as well as general Internet searches, and facility with different search interfaces.
  • There are different models for implementing information literacy instruction but having that instruction woven into the curriculum of the graduate program with support and participation from faculty is crucial to its success.

These articles did not necessarily discuss discipline-specific information needs aside from noting that social work databases and those of related disciplines. The articles did, however, note that social work as a practice-based field has a high need for evidence-based decisions, and social workers need to be able to stay on top of the changing information landscape once they receive their MSW and move into their careers full time.

Here are the citations for the articles:

Bellard, E. M. (2005). Information literacy needs of nontraditional graduate students in social work. Research Strategies, 20(4), 494–505. doi:10.1016/j.resstr.2006.12.019

Brustman, M. J., & Bernnard, D. (2007). Information literacy for social workers: University of Albany Libraries prepare MSW students for research and practice. Communications in Information Literacy, 1(2), 89–101.

Ismail, L. (2010). Revelations of an off-campus user group: Library use and needs of faculty and students at a satellite graduate social work program. Journal of Library Administration, 50(5–6), 712–736. doi:10.1080/01930826.2010.488957