Library Social Work: Meeting People Where They Are

Jul 14, 2023

person helping young adult students in a library

By Josette Keelor

Libraries are known for the free services they provide communities — from books, magazines and other media to programs like classes, workshops and children’s programs. When combined with other participating organizations, libraries can provide nearly unlimited resources that help community members achieve success.

Dr. Mary McKay sees libraries as an opportunity to place social workers with a full range of skills in proximity to communities in need of social services.

“A library is a public good for all,” said McKay, an NASW member, vice provost of Interdisciplinary Initiatives at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and president of the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare.Libraries offer such a conducive location because they serve individuals as well as vulnerable groups in a place that is accessible and less stigmatizing.

library, libraries, social work, NASW,

Libraries and social workers are “just a wonderful fit,” said Will Francis, LMSW, executive director of the NASW’s Texas and Louisiana chapters. “You want to find spaces in the community where people already go.”

Libraries are safe, free spaces where people of any age, economic situation or educational level can participate.Ideally, Francis said, social services would not be tough to find or difficult to access. Library social work is about “meeting the client where they already are.”

Libraries are helping social workers in that effort through research, community connections, partnerships with university programs, and access to grants.When it comes to connecting people to needed services, “there’s a lot of collaboration that happens,” said Alicia Melnick, an LCSW with the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work and a member of NASW. “We really see the libraries taking over as community centers and community hubs in a lot of these communities.”

Read the full feature story in the NASW Social Work Advocates magazine.