Social Work in Libraries: What International Practices Can Teach Us

Social work in libraries is an emerging field of practice that sees social workers embedded in public libraries, working to meet the psychosocial needs of both community members and staff. This growing trend in United States and Canadian public libraries is well documented (Hines-Martin et al., 2020; Lee et al., 2022; Winkelstein, 2021; Zettervall & Neinow, 2019), with most research covering the past ten years.

In Australia, social work in libraries is still in its infancy, with little research published to date. Charles Sturt University’s Social Work in Libraries researchers seek to explore the needs of both social workers and public librarians through their ongoing program of research.

This presentation will discuss the findings of a recent international scoping review into social work in libraries (Shephard, et al., 2023), consider the challenges and successes of student placements in US libraries, and weigh up the barriers and mitigating factors to employing social workers in libraries. Evidence indicates the benefits social workers in public libraries provide in addressing the daily challenges that library staff encounter, and in promoting community and individual wellbeing and psychosocial needs (Elia, 2019; Schweizer, 2018). However, further exploration of the various models of social work in libraries and the barriers and facilitators that contribute to effective professional social work practice is essential. In this presentation, we will explore what the future may hold for this ground-breaking interdisciplinary practice in overseas and Australian libraries who are increasingly relied on by marginalised members of the community.

Importantly, this presentation will look beyond current emerging practice in Australia and will explore the more established practice in the United States and Canada to illustrate the possible futures for our own context.

References: Elia, H. (2019). Public libraries supporting health and wellness: A literature review. School of Information Student Research Journal, 9(2). Hines-Martin, V., Cox, F. M. & Cunningham, H. R. (2020). Library collaborations and community partnerships: Enhancing health and quality of life. Routledge. Lee, S., Bae, J., Sharkey, C. N., Bakare, O. H., Embrey, J., & Ager, M. (2022). Professional social work and public libraries in the United States: A scoping review. Social Work, 67(3), 249–265. Schweizer, E. (2018). Social workers within Canadian public libraries: A multicase study (Master’s thesis, University of Calgary, Canada). Shephard, M. T., Garner, J., Bell, K. & Wardle, S. (2023) Social Work in Public Libraries: An International Scoping Review, Journal of the Australian Library and Information Association, DOI: 10.1080/24750158.2023.2255940 Winkelstein, J. A. (2021). Libraries and homelessness: An action guide. Libraries Unlimited. Zettervall, S. K., & Nienow, M. C. (2019). Whole person librarianship: a social work approach to patron services. Libraries Unlimited.

Dr Monique Shephard

Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Future of the Professions Research Group at Charles Sturt University

Author Bio

Dr Monique Shephard is an academic in Teacher Librarianship and a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Future of the Professions Research Group, where she researches with the Social Work in Libraries team. Prior to moving into research, Monique worked in a regional public library, with a particular focus on the youth literature collection. Her research interests include mental health in youth literature and social justice in libraries

Dr Jane Garner

Senior Lecturer, School of Information & Communication Studies at Charles Sturt University

Author Bio

Jane Garner, PhD, is a Senior Lecturer with the School of Information and Communication Studies at Charles Sturt University. She is also a member of the Charles Sturt University Libraries Research Group, the Environmental and Social Justice Research Group, and the Future of the Professions Research Group. She is an elected Standing Committee member of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions Library Services to People with Special Needs Section. Jane’s research and publications focus on the role of books, libraries, reading and information in the lives of people experiencing disadvantage, such as persons deprived of liberty and those experiencing homelessness or poverty.

Dr Kasey Garrison

Senior Lecturer, School of Information & Communication Studies at Charles Sturt University

Author Bio

Kasey Garrison, PhD, is a Senior Lecturer in Teacher Librarianship and coordinator of the Children’s Librarianship Specialisation at Charles Sturt University. Before becoming an academic, she taught in early childhood and primary schools in the Spanish and special education classroom as well as the school library. Her research interests centres around various topics in school libraries including information literacy, collaboration with public libraries, and social justice and diversity issues in youth literature.