January 31, 2019

The new roles of public libraries

Non Profit Quarterly -People may check out fewer books from libraries than they used to, but libraries have continued to grow as their role as community hubs deepens. ... In some cities, librarians have been trained to administer Narcan to interrupt opioid overdoses. In Ferguson and in Baltimore, as those cities were in a state of unrest after the killings of Michael Brown and Freddie Gray, respectively, the libraries served as sanctuaries, remaining open to the community. They have, in some cases, even been affordable housing partners.

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.

Nonko in particular focuses on efforts in San Francisco and Denver. San Francisco is considered to be the first major library system to put a social worker on staff, which it did in 2009. Denver’s effort dates from 2015, when it hired Elissa Hardy. The program serving 434 library customers in 2015. In 2018, it reached 3,500 library patrons. For 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.

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.”

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