Dr. Lili Luo, Assistant Professor with SLIS, partnered with Dr. Peter Allen Lee, Professor with the SJSU School of Social Work, on a $25,000 grant application, which was recently funded by the SJSU College of Applied Sciences and Arts (CASA).
The one-year research project, Social Workers in the Library: A Unique Collaborative Model to Increase Access to Social Services, builds upon a pilot program launched at San Jose Public Library in October 2009, known as Social Workers in the Library (SWITL). This unique collaboration between social work practitioners and information professionals seeks ways to increase access to social services programs and resources by reaching out to library patrons and providing consultation and information regarding local agencies and programs.
Building upon the pilot project, the goal of the CASA-funded exploratory research is to examine the efficacy of the SWITL program model and assess additional opportunities to expand the program through new community partnerships, as well as new service delivery models. A secondary goal is to identify best practices and share lessons learned regarding this distinctive service delivery model. Graduate students will be involved as research assistants.
Connecting people with the information they need has always been a core purpose of libraries. Many library patrons need access to information regarding local social services available in their community to meet needs such as homelessness and hunger, domestic violence, substance abuse, health and mental health issues, grief and loss, aging-related challenges, juvenile justice and delinquency, and employment. Libraries offer a unique venue for developing new approaches to expanding awareness of and access to social service programs, resources, and information.
In the SWITL program model, the public library serves as an additional social service information and referral center for the community. Libraries naturally attract those seeking information and assistance for a variety of needs, including many who are intimidated by formal social service agency settings. Librarians who staff public library reference desks frequently interact with patrons seeking answers to a range of questions related to social service issues, such as legal and health information needs.
Despite a handful of efforts to unite these two disciplines that have similar missions to advance community well-being and enrich lives, there are few deliberate partnerships between public libraries and the social work profession and limited program models where these types of collaborations result in increased access to social services. Creating effective partnerships between social workers and public libraries — a universally recognized neighborhood resource — offers new opportunities to meet community needs.