By Catherine Thompson | December 13, 2016
The library has always loaned books, videos and even CDs that offer guidance and advice on everything from how to manage money to how to lead a healthier lifestyle.
Now, the Kitchener Public Library's Central branch is offering a little bit more: a trained social worker who can give advice and guidance, offer a friendly presence and a sympathetic ear.
Kym Bohachewski admits many of her friends and colleagues were skeptical when she said she would do a work placement at the library as part of her requirements for a master in social work at Wilfrid Laurier University.
It's actually a logical fit, said Laura Reed, the library's manager of children and teen services. "We're a public building and we see a good cross-section of society," Reed said. "Our role is to make sure people can find what they need."
People come to the library for all kinds of things: to access computers for free, to get help filling out applications or e-documents, to search for housing or to get resources if English isn't their first language. A social worker could help any of those clients, Reed said.
"People find their way here not because it's a library but because it's a warm place, it's a welcoming place, it's a place to bring your kids to read a book," Reed said. "Over the years we've always gotten questions around, 'I have nowhere to stay tonight' or 'Where can I get a hot meal?' We'll be able to not just answer those questions but be able to add some support."
Social workers have in-depth knowledge about what's available to help people in the community, and they have skills in helping figure out what they need, Bohachewski said. "I've got the time to sit down and talk with somebody who maybe isn't quite sure what's available or what they need."
Her placement, which runs three days a week until April, includes training library staff in how to recognize when a library customer may need help with a bigger issue; outreach with community agencies to help the library figure out how it can best meet the needs of clients such as women staying at a shelter, or homeless men. That work could include helping people sign up for library cards, or even offering library tours for groups from the House of Friendship or OneROOF youth agency, or even organizing pop-up libraries at community agencies.
Having social workers at the library is still fairly unusual, but is something that libraries across North America are trying. The first was probably in San Francisco in 2009, while Edmonton Public Library was the first Canadian library to bring in a social worker in 2011, Bohachewski said.
"Libraries are increasingly a hub for the community, meeting different community needs," said Nancy Schwindt, the field education co-ordinator at Laurier who helped set up the placement. "This is just an extension of work we do with, for example, community centres, with drop-in centres, all those sorts of agencies."
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