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The Librarian as a Social Worker

American public libraries and the librarians who work there have always had a philosophy of welcomeness to those who want to use the facilities. People who are homeless need a spot where they can exist during the day when shelters are closed, where they won’t be shooed away in favor of paying customers. And as the homeless population continues to grow, libraries are providing more and more services to the homeless people they are so familiar with.  

“It’s true, libraries are warm and quiet places for people without homes to go,” says Ryan Dowd, executive director of Hesed House, an Illinois-based homelessness outreach group. “But they are also sanctuaries from the tedium of homelessness. Being homeless is not just dangerous and exhausting — it’s extremely boring.”

In 2013, Dowd created a presentation titled “A Librarian’s Guide to Homelessness,” which he first delivered at his local public library in Aurora, Illinois. He expected it would be a one-off. Since then he’s traveled extensively, giving the talk at dozens of libraries across the country and in other countries, including Canada and Estonia. (A version of the presentation is also available on YouTube.)

    “What I heard a lot of was, ‘How do we serve our homeless patrons better?’” said Dowd. “That surprised me. It was not about minimizing the disruptiveness or destructiveness of homeless patrons. It was about how to reach out to that demographic and serve them better.”

Libraries are looking into ways to meet the needs of their patrons, including the homeless. The San Francisco Public Library even hired a full-time social worker in 2009. Several others have followed their lead. Read about the many ways libraries are helping those who need it most, at Timeline. -via Digg 

(Image credit: Flickr user Wally Gobetz)


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My first librarian job was at an urban public library a couple blocks from the homeless shelters. I often met colorful people as a result.

“What I heard a lot of was, ‘How do we serve our homeless patrons better?’” said Dowd. “That surprised me. It was not about minimizing the disruptiveness or destructiveness of homeless patrons.

I've got to admit that I'm guilty of this, especially when I've been very busy.
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