Social Work at Spokane Public Library Gains Momentum

By Social Services Manager, Bethiah Streeter

Did you know there’s a lot of overlap between librarianship and social work? Both value confidentiality, connecting people with resources and information and meeting people where they’re at. Our libraries are a lively nexus of diversity and a lifeline for our most vulnerable populations. We are blessed to have such caring employees at Spokane Public Library. 

Within the first year of developing foundational elements to a social services program in our library system, we’ve collected more than 1,400 surveys, created on-hand directories of 100+ local resources for staff to share with patrons, allocated a space for informational resource support from 40+ organizations at Central Library, offered light case management to 37 individuals, provided support to house 18 neighbors, developed a full social services calendar supporting ongoing partnerships with more than 15 organizations and, in partnership with Peer Spokane, received a $400,000 grant to implement a two-year peer support program! 

A growing number of libraries nationwide—from Denver to Indianapolis to Spokane—offer social services resource support. At its core, a library connects citizens with information and resources, social services are just another type of resource and information. 

While incorporating social services into our library system allows us to better support our patrons, we would get nowhere without the consistent support, participation, and growth from staff. A main focus this past year has been to advocate for system change to provide guidance and education beyond the regularly requested library services. For example, to date we’ve had approximately 50 staff members attend two or more de-escalation workshops and started the implementation of a trauma-informed framework. 

It can be a challenge to create something new and initiate change. We’ve encountered many experiences where we had to react and adjust accordingly. We’ve had growing pains which help us plan for the future, but the one thing I keep coming back to is the mission that drives me in my work every day. My mission is to empower the community to spin a web of creative collaboration to support individuals in their journey toward more stable lives. 

Daily, I see our staff assist a variety of patrons. They juggle daily library-related service needs and diligently work to notice when someone needs a little extra help and be able to refer them to the appropriate team member. 

This past September through June, we had a dedicated Welcome Team of three student interns from the EWU Social Work Program who have been integral in supporting the foundational growth of our social services program. This team took part in daily rounds to assess and support staff and patrons needs while dealing with additional, more complicated issues as well. Having their support offered the library an opportunity to provide a higher level of connection and support for our staff and patrons. We recently welcomed two new social work interns, a Masters in Social Work and a Bachelors in Social Work to take over these responsibilities and more!

Alongside their efforts, we recently received a grant from Better Health Together Community Linkages to establish a program with Peer Spokane to allocate two full-time Peer Service Specialists at Central Library for the next two years. Read about this program here.

Peer Spokane serves individuals with behavioral health needs, including mental health and/or substance use, and those experiencing homelessness. The organization provides onsite peer emotional support, referral to peer coaching, support groups, supportive employment, supported housing, and referral to community resources. 

We’ve also started Coffee & Conversation, an ongoing community engagement program that provides a space for open dialogue on topics that unite us, rather than divide us. We gather weekly in an effort to help people feel seen, heard, and connected within our community. Any and all are invited to enjoy a cup of coffee and join the discussion. The conversation is usually free form, but there are also low-key activities available, such as coloring pages, puzzles, and conversation starters. This is a peaceful, engaging, all-voices-are-invited-to-speak type of space, but participants are welcome to simply listen, too. So far this year, 216 people have participated. 

The abundant partnerships, overflowing empathy, plentiful connections, and the commitment to change is evident in all the work we are doing. Thank you to everyone for welcoming new ideas and embracing the changes within your library. I feel the momentum growing and I look forward to our continued efforts and the impact it will have for our community in the coming years. 

Bethiah Streeter is the Social Services Manager at Spokane Public Library. Join us at Coffee & Conversation Wednesdays at 10:30am at Central Library!