“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.



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