LIBRARIES

Central Library hires social worker

Halifax Public Libraries follows trend in Edmonton, Saskatoon.

Halifax Public Libraries has created a new position called “community navigator.” Sheena Jamieson, a registered social worker, took up the position in January.

The libraries are waiting to announce the position until they more clearly define the role. A spokesperson for the libraries declined to comment, and Jamieson was not available for an interview.

Similar positions exist in other Canadian cities. Edmonton Public Libraries has three full-time social workers, who each work on 18 cases at a time.

“I think the library has become one of the last — if not the very last — destigmatized open space that we have in the western world,” says Hilary Kirkpatrick, a social worker at the Edmonton Public Libraries.

“What might surprise (someone) is just the amount of people who fall through the cracks and end up using the library as a safe and welcoming and warm space to be.”

Duties

Kirkpatrick has helped a client navigate the American embassy, helped inmates work with lawyers and helped another client reconnect with a child in the adoption system.

Referrals come from psychiatrists, hospitals, lawyers and housing agencies. Library social workers also provide support for mental health and substance abuse, as well as income and housing challenges.

Linda Wilson, director of Shelter Nova Scotia, supports the idea of a social worker in Halifax libraries, but hadn’t heard about the appointment before being asked for a comment.

“I think that a social worker in a library would be extremely helpful for anybody, whether they were experiencing homelessness or not,” she says.

Schools, doctors’ offices, faith-based organizations and even malls could also benefit from social workers, Wilson says.

“I think there should be a social worker everywhere.”

Regulars

Chuck Clark, a regular at the Central Library, uses the space to watch comedy videos on the computers, read magazines and browse the stacks. He says he sees many of the same people daily.

“There’s like mini-cultures here,” says Clark, who has a background as a film and TV technician. “There’s sort of a stratigraphy to it — different people on different floors (where) they sort of gravitate.”

In Edmonton, visitors sometimes gravitate toward the social workers to help them find books, mistaking them for other staff members. Despite her caseload, Kirkpatrick pauses to help them search.

“I’m not a librarian, but we’ll figure it out together,” she says.