March 7, 2012
The Librarian As Dear Abby
There is a movement in Britain to elevate some of the services a public library provides to include social services to library patrons. This takes the form of training librarians to not only guide individuals to online resources, but also to qualitatively use those resources. An article in the Guardian makes this clear as to the motivation. A government source notes that 8.2 million people in Britain have never used the Internet with slightly less than half of those socially excluded. A third of this group is out of work.
The idea is to ameliorate the circumstances for these individuals by getting them connected at their local library. The information that librarians can provide is described as quality internet advice and information about finding a job, changing career or keeping healthy. The pilot program which includes about 60 libraries will be ending at the end of this month. If successful, the plan is to deploy similar services through all U.K. libraries. From the Guardian:
Brighton's head of libraries and information services Sally McMahon, who is also an executive committee member of the SCL says: "By May we hope to have a report, with supporting staff training information, which can be used in every public library to help ordinary frontline staff guide the public on these kind of issues.
"We can't expect library staff to be trained up to Citizens' Advice Bureau level, however librarians have always had a strong information and advice role and this initiative will enable them to give good quality online advice and direct people to where they can find the knowledge they need."
The pilots are the latest example of the growing role which libraries are playing in helping to reach the digitally excluded.
I imagine this kind of service takes place in public libraries in the United States and elsewhere, at least very informally. Even in law libraries we have our regulars who may get different kinds of attention from the staff, some positive, some not. I'm sure we all have our stories. The fact that there is a concerted effort to expand the role of libraries from an information center to a social center with information at the hub is interesting. It’s a given that law librarians can’t offer legal advice to patrons, but social information? We talk about law librarianship as an alternative career for lawyers. Perhaps public librarianship will become an alternative career for the social worker if this trend becomes popular. [MG]