Saturday, August 18, 2012

‘Libraries and public service’

Illustration of woman with caption: "We started a homeless outreach team inside the library."

Hack Library School contributor Paul Lai discusses libraries and public service in an Aug. 8 post. He states, the idea of librarianship’s overlap with social work surfaced briefly during his studies.

The first was a reference to the San Francisco Public Library’s social services provisions during an Introduction to Library and Information Science class. It surfaced again when Lai interviewed teen services librarians for a youth services class:
“Both of them told me that one of the things they understood to be most important about their job working in the central downtown location of a large, urban public library system was that they needed to connect with the teens well and to build trust with them. They also noted that the most common reference questions they receive, by far, were ones related to obtaining shelter, free meals, and other resources that homeless and precariously housed youth need.
“Neither of the teen services librarians encountered any coursework that prepared them for this aspect of their jobs, and perhaps the ability to empathize and connect is not something that can be taught in the library school curriculum. However, would optional coursework related to providing social services and understanding the difficulties of people living in poverty not help aspiring public librarians to think more conscientiously about this aspect of their jobs?”
The question is an important one and certainly bears addressing.

Really, this is an issue for any area of library specialty that provides service to the public. Libraries are traditionally sources of information, whatever form or subject that information takes. They provide computer access that helps to bridge society’s digital divide and they promote information literacy.

I think it realistic that a library should compile resources for the most basic of needs.

The better informed the library student, the better informed the professional who can meet the needs of her or his community. The library worker’s social service role is surely a valid one.


  1. Thanks for reading the post! I'm interested in the topic as a way of sustaining librarianship's values of serving all people and providing information in support of fully-informed, democratic citizenship. I hope others continue to raise these topics and questions in library school and in the library work world.

    Also, up with black cats! :D

  2. This subject interests me too; I think libraries play an important role in promoting information-literate citizens who participate fully in their societies. My own early access to email and the Internet was through my school library.


Robust debate and even unusual opinions are encouraged, but please stay on-topic and be respectful. Comments are subject to review for personal attacks or insults, discriminatory statements, hyperlinks not directly related to the discussion and commercial spam.