Libraries are quiet places and for decades that whispered admonition from a librarian was usually all that was needed to keep the peace and peacefulness.
With the rise in issues such as poverty, homelessness, addiction and mental illness, libraries, including ours in Racine, have also increasingly become refuges for patrons dealing with those issues and that can sometimes lead to commotion.
“These are things that we were never trained for, in library school, to help people with,” said Darcy Mohr, head of adult and youth services for the Racine Public Library.
So the library is going to do something about it: it has hired a part-time temporary social worker to its staff to see if it can better deal with situations that crop up.
“Once in a while, we will have situations where someone will be in ‘crisis mode’ and the staff won’t necessarily have the training to know how to respond,” Mohr said.
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After researching it a bit (of course that’s what a library would do), Mohr found that increasingly libraries were adding social workers to their staffs to better cope and free up regular staff members to do their normal duties.
The library also conducted a six-week training session — Whole Person Librarianship — for all its reference staff to boost their core knowledge of social work training.
“It just got to the point where the librarians said, ‘We need a better way to help people,’ ” Mohr said.
That, of course, is the central philosophy to libraries everywhere: helping people. Helping them learn and helping them cope.
Carol Pagan, the new part-time social worker, will work 24 hours a week, mostly during the evening and on weekends in a trial internship program that will run through February.
It’s a thoughtful and responsive approach. If it is successful in assisting patrons with issues to get the help they need — whether through a referral to social resource agencies or just helping them make the right contact — the library may extend the program.
Libraries have always been great resources to help people learn and improve their skills and lives. These days that means more than books.