Thursday, January 14, 2010

San Francisco Public Library Hires a Social Worker

Often on the front lines of progressive library service to marginalized populations, the San Francisco Public Library has chosen to hire a psychiatric social worker as a way to deal with complaints concerning the behavior of homeless patrons. Leah Esguerra directs patrons to social services, trains library staff in how to deal with out-of-control or threatening behavior, and supervises "health and safety associates," formerly homeless patrons who are employed by the library to clean bathrooms and to distribute leaflets on where to find services such as food and housing.

Rather than seeing homeless patrons as "problem patrons" and developing exclusionary policies to restrict library access to certain segments of the population, libraries would do well to adopt SFPL's model. Of course, with budget cuts always looming, not every library will have $85 000 to spend on a full-time social worker, however, partnerships between libraries and public health departments or even a part-time presence may be feasible for some libraries. In an age of eroding public space, libraries must welcome users from all backgrounds and provide a safe space for those users. As SFPL employee Luis Herrera states, "It's the most democratic institution. We absolutely want it to be open to everyone, but you cross the line and it's a behavioral issue. We're not labeling. We don't make any value judgments."

You can read more here.

1 comment:

Library Vixen said...

It is an interesting experiment. The presence of the social worker and her team has been high, and I think they are striving to help patrons who we would normally have to call security for, rather than offering true help. But in my opinion all of us on the front lines of the library staff are social workers.