Report: “Library Systems Embracing Their New Roles As Social Service Hubs”
“From Next City:
Before 2009, the San Francisco Public Library’s bathrooms often became spaces of contention, with security staff escorting patrons out of the library, sometimes arresting them if they were found bathing, sleeping or injecting. But that year, the library hired the first library social worker in the United States, Leah Esguerra, marking a shift in attitudes that have since spread to library systems across the country.
“The idea was to reach out in a way that’s compassionate,” says Esguerra. “We have security, but the role is different.”
San Francisco’s experience directly inspired change at the Denver Public Library. In 2012, the Homeless Services Action Committee — an internal working group with the Denver library — made recommendations to add a social worker to staff. The library eventually hired social worker Elissa Hardy in 2015 to begin building the library’s Community Resource program, bringing on additional social workers and peer navigators. The program has gone from serving 434 library customers in 2015, when it was just Hardy, to 3,500 served in 2018.