Posts Tagged ‘expanded role’

In our town, the library has launched a big campaign to raise money for an addition that will meet the evolving needs of library users. It’s already a wonderful library, and because it is the purview partly of the town and partly of an independent corporation, it has been protected from the budget cuts that have plagued many municipal libraries.

Libraries will always be important for books, but today they are also multiservice community centers that people trust. I think, for example, of the Ferguson Library, which sheltered frightened residents during days of violent clashes after the death of Michael Brown.

At the Nonprofit Quarterly (NPQ), Steve Dubb adds, “Libraries have continued to grow as their role as community hubs deepens. Here at NPQ, we have profiled libraries that have become maker spaces, supported gardening, and rented out musical instruments. …

“Yet another growing role, Emily Nonko reports in Next City, is in social service provision. Nonko notes that up to 30 libraries nationally, including in places like Chicago, Brooklyn, Denver, San Francisco, and Washington DC, have social workers on staff. A Chicago Tribune article last year mentioned  that Justine Janis, a clinical social worker at the Chicago library, was leading a national monthly conference call of social service workers on library staff.

“Nonko in particular focuses on efforts in San Francisco and Denver. [For instance, in] 2019, Denver Public Library budgeted for a team of 10, including four social workers and six peer navigators. The team, Nonko adds, supports all 26 branch locations.

“[Denver social worker Elissa] Hardy explains the Denver program’s rationale: ‘In social work we have this term called a “protective factor.” The library is a protective factor for people, which is basically a place or a thing where we’re helping to support people, and not change things negatively for them.’

“Certainly, anything that increases social supports is likely to improve public health. As the Brookings Institution and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation have argued, the US underspends on social supports (and overspends on clinical care). In the American Journal of Managed Care, Ara Ohanian notes that, ‘On average, OECD [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development] nations spend $1.70 on social services for every $1 on health services; whereas the US spends just 56 cents.’ …

“Libraries, of course, are just one piece of a larger puzzle, but they do make a difference. Leah Esguerra, who was the first clinical social worker hired by the San Francisco library system, tells Nonko that, ‘The idea was to reach out in a way that’s compassionate.’ Now, Nonko explains, the San Francisco Public Library now has a team of five that supports Esguerra. These social workers inform patrons about resources and services and have helped at least 130 people find stable housing.”

More at NPQ, here. My local library is not planning those kinds of services, but it’s positioning itself for the future. And to that end, it has interviewed an impressive range of constituencies, sometimes more than once. Very soon there will be new items available like seeds and tools you need only once in a while. There will be spaces just for teens or for adults to have coffee and chat. There will be improved areas for children, a shared garden, and more.

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