WPL @ ALA 2016 Wrap-up

This was a great year for Whole Person Librarianship at ALA. The panel on “Connecting Individuals with Social Services: The Academic Library’s Role,” convened by Samantha Hines from Missoula College Library, brought the concept of WPL to an academic audience. One of the panelists said he was glad to hear that librarians are talking about serving the “whole person” since professionals in student services often speak of supporting the “whole student.” Important takeaways from the session include:

  • There’s a tremendous amount of work student support services (and community social services) already provide. The library can have a role in connecting students with resources, but it’s also worth remembering there are professionals out there who make social services their life’s work. Talk to them, ask them for their ideas, and build relationships as a starting point. Look for where you can fill in the gaps.
  • Academic libraries are already doing a lot to support the “whole student,” building more extensive outreach beyond the popularity of therapy dogs and de-stressing activities during finals. One example from the audience came from Metro State University in St. Paul, whose joint academic-public library space hosted St. Paul Public Library’s regular social service hours while the central library was closed for renovation. Students came to rely on those hours and have been asking for them since they returned to SPPL. Metro State is now looking at how to implement their own version.
  • All types of librarians need to learn about and practice good boundary-setting. One of the questions that came up was how far to go when helping a patron who has a challenging life situation. This is something that comes up a lot in public libraries, and while it was validating to see it’s a universal question, it’s also disappointing to have to respond that there’s no one good answer to that question. While we’re all exploring the boundaries of what kind of service we want to provide, we will have to keep defining and redefining that for ourselves. It does help to talk with colleagues about how they have made such choices and what they have learned.

Here are the slides I used, though they’re not very info-heavy: WPL 2016 final

In addition to the session, I was fortunate to get to help plan and participate in a volunteer project through Librarians Build Communities, an ALA Member Initiative Group that anyone can join. We helped out at four Orlando County Library System branches that participate in Summer BreakSpot to serve lunches to kids who get free and reduced price lunch during the school year. Check out the Saturday edition of Cognotes for more information.