Library social work complicated, vital

Libraries are all about accessibility. Libraries have transformed from mere buildings that house collections of books, to become repositories for everything from umbrellas to museum discounts and notarization services. In the wake of a global pandemic, when many social services were severely cut or rendered less accessible, libraries are bridging the gaps.

Therein lies the impetus of social work in the library. Librarians are ultimately resource connectors; but because of the nuances associated with connecting individuals to such resources, it’s important this work isn’t added to the ever-growing duties of library workers.

In Downers Grove, the library has provided social work interns in partnership with Aurora University since early 2020 to address the rising needs of patrons seeking referrals. In a past three-month period (October 2023 — January 2024), interns interacted with 130 patrons, of whom 34% identified as seniors. During one-week in January, interns connected 12 individuals with temporary housing and weeks later, two patrons were placed in permanent housing.

This is just a sampling of the impact. Like many programs that originate outside the library’s operating budget, the Downers Grove Public Library Foundation was tapped to keep the program going (with financial support being provided since 2022, when the program began offering a paid stipend). Funding two part-time interns and a clinical supervisor committing up to 300 hours per semester collectively costs roughly $30,000 annually.

As social work becomes more of a full-time program for our area libraries, they require and deserve a full-time solution. These services benefit us all.

Katie Johnson, Vice President

DGPL Foundation

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