Public Libraries: More than Just a Building Full of Books

When I was a sophomore in high school, I began working part-time at my town library in Connecticut and shortly after beginning college in Washington, DC, I accepted a student job at my campus library. Today, I continue to work in a public library in Texas while studying for my master’s degree. My experience working in both urban and suburban public libraries far exceeds my experience in social service agencies, but throughout these eight years, I witnessed a wide variety of library services similarly empower at-risk patrons. Through this experience, I recognize a visible link between the social work and library science professions, but this link continues to be a missing element in social work practice and research.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a library as “a place in which literacy, musical, artistic, or reference materials are kept for use but not for sale.” Libraries, however, go beyond this definition to provide programs and outreach services that promote early literacy and lifelong learning. These capacity building programs and outreach services particularly benefit traditionally marginalized populations, such as the elderly, young children, homeless, adolescents, refugees, or immigrants. Unlike social work, however, library programs and outreach services do not utilize the evidence-based process to incorporate best available research evidence, professional expertise, and patron values/preferences when making decisions.

Libraries already exist as a natural element of community life that benefit all its members, whether you are a stay-at-home mom bringing your three children to story time, a recent immigrant taking English Language Acquisition classes, or the starting high school quarterback studying for your physics test. This free and accessible learning environment supports diverse groups of people already motivated to enhance existing skills, engage with other community members, and learn about additional resources. Library programs and outreach services adequately respond to communities’ evolving and diverse needs, but yet, social work practice often neglects to incorporate this existing community strength in their delivery of services.

Ultimately, the social work and library science professions both aim to strengthen our communities through their provision of services and access to resources. The link between the social work and library science professions, although under-explored and under-utilized, proves imperative to promoting community well being. Rather than creating and funding separate services and outreach programs that effect the same results, public libraries and social service agencies should strategically partner to enhance their service delivery. Social work practice and research will truly benefit from the exploration of this essential, but often missing, element in our mission to achieving social justice.

By: Mary Beth Meier




Confession: I love reading almost as much as I love coffee. There is something about getting lost in a story, being challenged to think a new way, and learning about an issue I once was clueless to. Reading keeps me sane; reminding me there is a world beyond the walls of the classroom, the list of homework assignments, and clients to see.

With the cool air comes a longing to curl up with a hot cup of tea, and a good book. To help you get started, here are some of the books I’ve enjoyed, in no particular order.

Just Mercy- A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
Bryan Stevenson was a law student when he took an internship with a non-profit law firm that represented inmates on death row. This internship became his passion in life. After graduating, he returned to the firm before relocating to Alabama to found the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI). Representing the innocent, inadequately represented, survivors, children, and mentally ill on death row, Stevenson has made it is life calling to find justice for all. The book chronicles the history of death row, stories of inmates, and laws. It reads like a novel, rather then a textbook and exposes our nations deep roots of racial injustice that are still alive today.

Teaching with Poverty in Mind by Eric Jensen
Research has shown the adverse affects poverty has an individual at any age, but have you ever considered how schools react to it is also a major player in how students will adapt? Students spend a majority of their day at school, surrounded by peers and teachers, in a setting that should theoretically be enriching their life. Jensen takes a look at how schools currently respond to poverty, what research shows, and how schools can help bridge the gap. A must read for any social worker as he intertwines micro and macro issues and change to demonstrate the importance of a well-connected team.

When Helping Hurts by Steven Corbett
To be honest, I read this book for the first time three years ago as I was preparing to spend a summer in Malawi and Zambia as a youth ministry intern. This semester I pulled it out and re-read it as I started my field placement. I credit this book to be a major part of how I came to understand social injustice, the effects of philanthropy, and empowerment. Written from the perspective of the Christian theology, it gives insight into the world of non-profits and social service agencies and the impact of different types of service.

Is Everyone Hanging Out without Me? (And other concerns) by Mindy Kaling
This is possibly my favorite book I’ve read this semester! Every time I picked up the book I was either laughing, identifying with her story on some level, or both. As a collection of short stories about her adult life, Kaling recaps some of her most trying times in life, integrating humor, life lessons and bits of wisdom. I finished this book in three days and am ready to read it again!

So what’s next on my list?
– Gray Mountain by John Grisham
– Rising Strong by Brene Brown
– All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

By: Greta Nichols Bellinger

Research, It’s a Process

The topic of this blog was supposed to be “the research process, start to finish”.  However, I haven’t reached the finish line, so I think it more appropriate to call this, “the research process, it is a process”.

I have a graduate fellowship with Dr. Pritzker at the GCSW.  Many of you will be lucky enough to take some of her classes and should start thanking me know for introducing her to you.  Dr. Pritzker’s primary area of interest is in Civic Engagement among youth, in particular minority youth.

Most of the Professors at the GCSW are involved in some sort of research and publication is required for tenure at the University.  UH has made a concerted effort to become a Tier One research facility – there are numerous criteria but a key one is bringing in $100 million in grant funding per annum – and attained that distinction in 2011.  Needless to say, there was a party.

I began work with Dr. Pritzker on her first study at the GCSW – she has since netted a substantial State grant as well (WOOT-WOOT!), but I digress.  I appreciate the opportunity to be a part of the civic engagement survey from the beginning because it gave me real insight into the research process.

My background is not in social science.  I am actually a philosophy major, and you don’t need to write grant proposals, or conduct focus groups to write about Plato!   Thus, I was an utter novice when it came to research.  I recall being extremely stressed out regarding the research course that is bundled into Foundation, and I thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown when I took a graduate level Stats course in my 2nd year!

Working with Dr. Pritzker was a wonderful learning experience because she accepted that I had no idea what to do and was willing to walk me through the process.  We started with the IRB proposal to UH as well as Houston Independent School District (HISD).  We also looked at formatting survey questions.  I was involved with contacting schools, administrators etc… and present when Dr. Pritzker went to talk with teachers at our target schools regarding the purpose of the survey.  I was able to take part in the writing or revision of every proposal and administered half of the surveys in the study.

Going into a High-School was quite nostalgic, as I taught HS for 3 years, and it was a challenge to work with teachers and administrators to maximize the survey response among students.  Last summer gave me the opportunity to enter 800+ surveys worth of data….opportunity might give you the wrong impression!  Taking Stats helped me learn how to use a statistical data program to make sense of our student responses.  I have also been researching justifications for certain things that pertain to our data and making suggestions that will impact publication

The process is not over, but I have learned so much.  I’ve definitely realized I still don’t know very much about research, but that I am capable of making some sense out of it.  Research is challenging, but important and interesting.  I would encourage students to talk with professors at UH, find out what they are working on, and take the opportunity to volunteer some time to learn more about the process.

Good night, and good luck!

By: Matthew Estey