Tuesday, November 23, 2021

#NYLA2021: Community Partnership Social Workers in Libraries

Libraries: We're all in logo

This year, the New York Library Association held its annual conference in both virtual (Oct. 28-29) and in-person (Nov. 3-6) formats, as well as having on-demand content. Below are notes from one of the virtual sessions.


Middle Country Public Library (MCPL) welcomed a licensed social worker into their service model over 15 years ago and has sustained this model through deep community partnership.  Learn about how this model has been so successful in forging new relationships and meeting patron needs. Meet our licensed social worker who will talk about the types of services she can offer with her professional training and how these services work within a public library. Kristen Todd-Wurm, National Coordinator for Family Place Libraries will talk about how the library set up and sustained this ongoing beneficial relationship over the years.


Kristen Todd-Wurm, Middle Country Public Library (MCPL). She is the National Coordinator for Family Place Libraries. Her title for this talk was "Expanding Library Services with Social Workers."


I've organized these notes around a list Todd-Wurm had at the end of her talk.

Assess the need in your community 

Parents, seniors, teens, children, and adults -- What stressors are we seeing in our libraries for these groups? 

Librarians are not equipped to help people with all of the needs that they have. 18 years ago, MCPL realized that it needed to help community members with their stressors.

Poverty in NYS is at 15.1%.  Poverty by race: 

  • 9.8%White NYers
  • 22.5% Black NYers
  • 24.4% Hispanic NYers.

A living wage for one adult and one child household, $36/hr.

What can we do? Libraries are always changing to meet our community needs.

What limitations do libraries face in addressing the se needs?

  • Not sure it falls under library purview
  • Lack of funding - partner with county services. look for grant funding
  • Lack of staff - no more work by staff than usual
  • Lack of space - a private space for meeting. A filing cabinet that locks (to comply with HIPPA/ Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Ac), phone, and computer.
  • Lack of staff expertise - the social worker brings expertise.
  • Attitude of staff, administration, and community - This isn't want libraries do? Look for grants so it is not all out of library funds.

Identify potential health and human service partners

How can libraries be part of the solution to some of these issues without doing it all on their own?

  • Partnership!
  • MCPL worked with an agency who could hire and supervise social workers
  • The partnership helps the agency gain access to more people who need their services. People who need help may be more comfortable coming to a library.
  • Work cooperatively.
  • Planning is important, so you can find adequate funding and structure the services. 

MCPL has a social worker for 15 hours per week with those hours varied across days. Yes, they have turnover often because social workers obtain a full-time position.

The outside organizations captures statistics and helps the library show the need in the community.

Get administration support

Understand what roles will need to be filled by library staff and administration.

  • Liaison
  • Scheduler
    • Staff can make appointments for people. They ask for very limited info from people (initials).
  • Outreach in the community and in the library
  • Publicity - on social media and through other agencies
  • Grant writer / grant reporter
  • Interviewer of potential new social work hires
  • Fiscal agent - for MCPL this is done by Family Services which works with them as their fiscal agent

Meet with a prospective partner and present proof. Work towards a win-win.

Develop a memorandum of understanding with your partner(s). Document each organization's responsibilities, as well as the library's responsibilities.


Identify and solicit funds.

MCPL is building some funding into their programming budget to help sustain this service, because they want to be able to continue during years when grants are not a prevalent.

Funders also appreciate seeing  a breath of funding sources. They don't want you to rely on one source.

Setup space, etc. See info above on what is needed.


Create and disseminate publicity.


Engage in ongoing communications

  • Regularly scheduled meetings between the library and its partners
    • Share ideas
    • Identify trends
    • Keep minutes
  • Administrative level communication 
    • Fiscal issues
    • Personnel
    • Future plans

Engage and educate library staff.

Do outreach to community agencies.


Best Practices:

  • Periodic meetings of everyone involved
  • Social worker schedules that balance client sessions with time to do outreach
  • Family centers are most effective when there is designated library staff/liaison

Evolution? More services and programs to address:

  • Homing insecurity (homelessness) - at Riverhead Library they've implemented a "I Can do This" Group.
  • Food insecurity - added the Long Island Cares Mobile Food Van
  • Gang recruitment - have a social worker interacting directly with teens. Help parents recognize the signs of gang recruitment.
  • Immigration - started a "Amigas Latinas" group

Final Thoughts

First, this session related to the NYLA 2018 keynote, Our Voices Together: How Conversations Create Change.

Second, given what our communities have been through in 2020 and 2021, I hope more public libraries - and perhaps K-12 and academic libraries - will have social workers available in their buildings. Doing so could be a huge help to our communities.

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