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Graduate assistantships in libraries teach transferability of skills

Written by Emily Ward (BSW 2024) and Madelyn Wilson (MSW 2025)

Librarians and social workers have existed in separate spaces for a long time, but many of their goals and ethics are shared. Both professions have direct access to the public, and both have a responsibility to help provide people with the resources that they need to thrive. Advocacy, respect, service, privacy, and access to information are all pillars of librarianship and social work alike.

The first ever full-time library-social work collaboration occurred in 2009, when the San Francisco Public Library hired a full-time social worker to help patrons who were struggling with social services. Since then library social work has taken off, and the number of instances of social work in the library has increased substantially. Libraries have even started partnering with universities in order to place social work students at the Bachelor’s and Master’s level to complete their field internships. As of today, there are 173 reported social work student collaborations in library systems (Source: Whole Person Librarianship). These partnerships include internships at public libraries, school libraries, and academic/research libraries.

Public Library

Emily Ward (BSW 2024)

In the public library, the goal of social work is to foster community connections, assist patrons who may be struggling to meet basic needs, and provide staff with the best educational materials possible so that working with the public becomes easier for everyone involved. The library is one of the last places in society where all are welcome without any expectation of spending money, and having that temperature controlled sheltered building for many is a very important thing. With such a diverse population of patrons visiting the public library, the potential for change is overwhelming.

So, what does this change look like in the Morgantown Public Library? This semester, the Morgantown Public Library brought in its first social work intern since before the pandemic. The student started their internship by conducting a needs assessment survey for both staff and patrons of the library to help determine how social work methods could be best used at the library. The student assessed a need for more information about local community resources and developed a community resource guide that provides information to patrons about resources in Morgantown and surrounding areas. This guide includes information about where to find things such as housing, transportation, food assistance, and a number of other social service related fields. It is available to anyone who asks, and is kept at the circulation desk of the library.

As well as the creation of the resource guide, the student was able to attend many trainings and volunteer opportunities in the community, and shared the information that they learned with staff. Working with library staff to create a more understanding space within the library is a wonderful opportunity that library social work collaborations make possible. Having a social work presence in the public library makes for a more inclusive environment by cultivating a space that is inviting for all. Caring for vulnerable populations in the community ensures that everyone has equitable access to the resources that make libraries such a useful part of our world. Everyone deserves a community space where they can go to better themselves, and through library-social work collaboration this is absolutely possible!

Academic Library

Madelyn Wilson, (MSW 2025), Manager, WoW! Lounge 

In a university library setting, the role of a social worker is to create a safe and resource rich environment for students. At WVU’s Downtown Library we have done this through developing the WOW Student lounge, which is funded by a Women of WVU grant.

The student lounge was cultivated with social work theory and principles in mind such as social justice and the importance of human relationships. The space is decorated with greenery, interactive cork boards, and a display on historic and current student activism at WVU.

Student wellness and engagement is a top priority for the lounge project. To address growing mental health concerns for students on college campuses, we have a resource shelf with various pamphlets, flyers, and cards advertising a variety of resources on and off campus available to students. Some of the many services displayed include mental health serves, support groups, LGBTQ+ resources, sexual assault and domestic violence resources, and recovery services/support. Our most popular wellness program is our “grab n’ go” bags. The content of these bags is always changing but they are filled weekly with items such as stress balls, coloring books, stickers, school supplies, and assorted resource information. The goal of these bags is to encourage students to de-stress and utilize the resources that are available to them as needed.

In conjunction with our own projects, we recently collaborated with another campus organization, WELL WVU, to make fentanyl test strips available in the student lounge. Fentanyl is a growing concern among social workers and the community as a whole. Having them freely available for anyone to take from the student lounge helps destigmatize harm reduction measures and could potentially save a life. This program has been highly successful and we hope to expand it.

In addition to making a resource abundant space, the lounge also serves as a recreational area where students can unwind and have fun. Games such as giant Connect 4, Animal Crossing Guess Who, Jenga, etc., allow students to interact with one another and build/strengthen lasting relationships. Students can also use our craft cart, equipped with crafting materials, coloring sheets, and rotating special craft projects such as rainbow scratch boards, as a creative outlet. All in all, the WOW Student Lounge, like many other libraries, offers a community centered space where people can utilize available resources to strengthen themselves and the community.

Emily Ward and Madelyn Wilson co-wrote this essay to chronicle their experiences as graduate assistants at the Downtown Library and the Morgantown Public Library, respectively. They detail how working with library resources and space assessment/development prepared them for their careers in social work.