Social work in Australian public libraries: An interdisciplinary approach to social justice

Jane Garner, Leanne Mitchell, Karen Bell, Anna Lockwood, Sabine Wardle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


Public library staff are increasingly required to work with members of the public with high social needs. Public libraries are places of sanctuary and connection for people experiencing challenges such as homelessness, poverty, mental illness, domestic violence and substance abuses. In recognizing their role to serve the needs of all people who enter their buildings, public library staff are often asked to work outside their areas of expertise to meet the needs of community members. Public library staff can experience feeling overwhelmed and anxious when working with this community, often wanting to help but not knowing where the boundary between providing support and undermining the self-determination of the individual lies, and not knowing what resources and services would best meet the needs of these visitors. To assist patrons with high social needs and library staff, the City of Melbourne Libraries followed an approach now common in the United States of America, but largely untested in Australia by working with a local housing group to place a social worker in their City Library. This article explores the early work of the Library Social Worker as she engaged with library patrons and provided training to library staff. Using statistics and case notes that describe her activities and their outcomes, we can see that although this practice is new for the Australian public library system, the placement of a social worker into a busy urban library has significant benefits to both patrons in need and the staff who work with them.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)504-520
Number of pages17
JournalPublic Library Quarterly
Issue number6
Early online date07 Oct 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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