What Librarians taught me about social workers

The last two weeks I wrote about social workers in libraries.

I got several emails from libraries pointing out issues that I should have included.

It reminded me that I am not an expert in this area.

That is why I am particularly excited to be interviewing two actual experts for this month’s monthly training. 

Anyhow, here are two of the points that I thought were particularly insightful:

Hiring a Social Worker vs. Partnering with a Nonprofit

In my email, I advocated that libraries should partner with a local nonprofit (rather than hire their own social worker).  My reason was that a nonprofit that regularly hires/supervises social workers will do a better job than a library doing it for the first time.

A few people pointed out—correctly—that this method has its own risks:

  • The culture of the nonprofit may not be a fit for the library.
  • The nonprofit may be less effective, in general, at hiring and supervising.
  • The nonprofit may have low standards for accountability of their staff.
  • The library may not be a priority for a nonprofit that has its own buildings.

These are all very real risks.

At the homeless shelter I ran for almost 2 decades we have five or more partner nonprofits that have specialized employees embedded in our shelter (mental health counseling, substance abuse counseling, legal services, medical services, domestic violence counseling, etc.). It is a model I know VERY well, and I have experienced all the risks firsthand.

So, I am revising my original opinion.

Now, I will say this:

  • Having a nonprofit embed a social worker in your library is better, if:  1)  You can find the right partner organization, and 2) You are willing to put in the work of maintaining a relationship with the partner organization.
  • If you cannot find the right partner—or are unwilling/unable to put the time into the relationship—then you should hire your own.

The Risks of Using Social Work Interns

I wrote about several risks of poorly supervised social work interns in libraries:

  • Unrealistic expectations placed on interns.
  • Hiring the wrong intern.
  • Inadequately supervising an intern.

A few people pointed out an additional risk: Social work interns can have unrealistic expectations, themselves.

Some interns have a confidence in their knowledge that greatly exceeds their actual knowledge. They can insist (demand?) that an organization make radical and expensive changes immediately.

Yes, this is a very real risk. All interns have this risk, of course. It is especially high, though, when an intern feels like they are the only person in the organization with social work training.

This isn’t a reason not to work with interns. It is a reason to over-communicate expectations, especially at the beginning of the internship.

Do you have questions?

On Thursday, I am interviewing Beth Wahler and Sarah Johnson, two experts on social workers in libraries.

Have a great week!



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