Introducing the Library Social Worker

In an Australian-first, Melbourne City Council have committed to hiring a social worker for its libraries. Working across the six branches that constitute City of Melbourne libraries, the full-time social worker will support frontline library staff in understanding and responding to homelessness and working with people who have multiple and complex needs.

The social worker will work proactively with library visitors and will provide training and support to staff to help respond appropriately to people who may require extra assistance. The appointment of the full-time social worker follows a successful four-month trial from February to May 2019, which saw an outreach worker support library visitors experiencing a range of challenges.

The concept

The concept comes from similar programs that run in San Francisco and Denver in the USA. Since being introduced in 2009, library staff have better understanding of the issues that many patrons deal with such as mental health, poverty, substance abuse and homelessness.

Social workers can help find mental health care, food stamps, job training and more. They can make appointments with health services on behalf of library visitors and some library social workers can even treat drug overdoses, stocking doses of Narcan, an anti-overdose drug .

Why libraries?

Libraries are for everyone and they provide important resources and services for the community. They are among the last few public indoor spaces where people who are homeless or vulnerable can seek shelter, access technology and use resources that many of us take for granted.

Craig Farrell is one homeless person who regularly seeks sanctuary in the library, describing it as “safe, warm and welcoming”. He is joined by many people doing it tough, who rely on libraries to access information and use free computers and wifi.

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