Dr Keren Dali1 focused on the intersection of social work and library and information science. Social workers need to embrace information communications technology (ICT) and ensure that it benefits their clients, while ensuring that the digital divide does not replicate or exacerbate existing inequalities. Keren argues that social work education needs to better equip social workers with an understanding of the ethics, security and privacy issues of ICT and the way information access, information poverty, and information overload issues may impact their clients.
The presentation on trauma-informed librarianship by Dr Beth Wahler2 was particularly valuable. Beth’s research and practice has focused on how to apply a trauma-informed approach to both supporting patrons with psycho-social needs and supporting library staff who engage with these people. She explained that the first step is to understand what trauma is and how it affects people’s behaviour. While social workers in libraries can collaborate with librarians to create a trauma-informed organisation, there are also strategies for libraries that do not have on-site social workers. Applying trauma-informed care can reduce violent or unpleasant incidents and this can reduce library staff burnout. You can read more on this topic in Creating a person-centered library3 when it is published in 2023.
Patrick Lloyd4 advocated for libraries as safe spaces and a protective factor in patrons’ lives. He made the point that social workers need to challenge the status quo to achieve social justice and that library managers need to understand that role and include social workers in the development of library policy and staff training. The balance of the presentations focused on the various models for having social workers in libraries. First-hand experience and research from the United States, Australia, and most interestingly from New Zealand, were presented. Most research has focused on the type of social worker employment - whether they are full or part-time, volunteers, or interns (social work students), employed by the library or by an external agency. Other aspects to consider are how the social worker functions within the library – in an outreach style, approaching patrons who may need help or offering a space where patrons can come for social work appointments. Whether the social worker is directly involved in de-escalating incidents, staff training and policy setting are also issues to consider.
PhD candidate Mary Provence’s5 research from urban libraries across the United States focused on how the role of social workers in libraries impacted incident de-escalation. Symposium participants from Australia and New Zealand were shocked at the level of violence and the number of armed security personnel, including police officers, deployed within the libraries surveyed. Panellists from Australia discussed the benefits, challenges, and limitations of working as qualified social workers and being involved in student placements within libraries.
From New Zealand, Anna Lockwood6 described her pathway into social work in libraries and described key challenges faced by Auckland Libraries. Anna talks about the work undertaken as part of the Central Hub Safe Spaces Project in this issue of Library Life. To continue the conversation, there is a call for papers for a special issue of the Journal of the Australian Library and Information Association (JALIA) to be published in December 2023, focusing on delivering social work services in libraries. The issue will bring together researchers and practitioners interested in the interdisciplinary approach and its benefit to both library users and staff. Follow this link.
You can learn more about the speakers and access the presentations and other resources here.
1. Dr Keren Dali, Assistant Professor, Research Methods & Information Science Dept., Morgridge College of Education, University of Denver
2. Dr Beth Wahler, Director of the School of Social Work at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte
3. Wahler, E.A., & Johnson, S. C. (2023). Creating a Person-Centred Library: Best practices for supporting high-needs patrons. ABC-CLIO. https://www.abc-clio.com/products/ a6528p/
4. Patrick Lloyd, Clinical Assistant Professor, The University of Texas at Austin, Steve Hicks School of Social Work
5. Mary Provence, LCSW, PhD Candidate, Indiana University School of Social Work, Indianapolis, Indiana
6. Anna Lockwood, Senior Advisor - Inclusive Services, Connected Communities. Te Kaunihera o Tāmaki Makaurau