Cassopolis District Library offers onsite social workers

CASSOPOLIS — Following suit with the Niles District Library, the Cassopolis District Library is part of Social Workers in Small and Rural Libraries, a grant funded partnership which provides onsite social workers and services. SWIRSL began with Niles District Library and includes Van Buren District Library, Bridgman Public Library, Dowagiac District Library, and Benton Harbor Public Library.

Tracy Rudi, a master’s student at Western Michigan University, was the first social work intern to offer social services at NDL. It became a simple way to help local citizens who did not have the means or knowledge to access resources such as employment assistance, local food pantries, Medicaid online, as well as other resources and services. NDL was awarded a grant to hire a full-time social worker, and to offer stipends to social work interns at bachelors and masters level education.

CDS, as well as the other aforementioned local libraries, are to have social workers onsite for certain hours of the week, and by appointment. On Friday, Rudi, as well as another WMU masters student intern Jonathan Anthony, and the full-time social worker at NDL, Tiffany Russell, had a two-hour introductory visitation time at CDL. Interested visitors were welcome to attend, eat breakfast treats, and learn more about the services provided by the onsite social workers.

“The biggest thing was addressing barriers and access to services,” Rudi said.

The social work help at libraries is primarily a referral service to help connect locals to service providers and agencies inside and outside the community. The social workers stationed at these libraries cannot provide therapy, counseling or legal advice.

Libraries across the country are trying to find new ways to offer patrons and visitors information, resources and programming that will not only keep libraries relevant, but will benefit local communities. Libraries are becoming more and more like community information centers, as opposed to warehouses for books.

Russell acknowledged the stigmas associated with going to certain places for help, and how finding that help at libraries can break some of those stigmas.

“There’s some stigma attached to you going into a DHS building, or there’s some stigma attached to you going into a community mental health facility, but at the library no one has to know that you’re coming in to see a social worker,” Russell said. “You can just say, ‘I’m going to the library.’ And there’s really no judgment behind that.”

Russell also noted how uncommon it is to have onsite social workers and service in smaller district libraries such as Cassopolis, let alone a full-time social worker, like her, at the Niles Library.

“I think rural [libraries] would benefit very largely from having a social worker available outside the usual agencies,” Rudi said.

Anthony, who will be the regular social worker at CDL, is putting together a resource directory of services in Branch, Van Buren, and Berrien counties. After seeing the needs of the communities he will be working with, he understands some of the difficulty people experience in finding the right service providers, in and outside the local community.

“It’s certainly opened my eyes to the needs of the community, which is coming in with a variety of service requests,” Anthony said. “Seeing the breadth of issues that come in has been very eye opening to me.”

Libraries, in many senses, are places to meet needs. Needs of curiosity, interest, information, literature, programs, and more are sought out at libraries.

“Everybody coming to a library has a need, even if it’s just a book, or a movie,” Anthony said. “Everybody comes because they need something.”

The social workers may not be able to directly fulfill needs, but they may be able to connect patrons and visitors with the correct services and resources.

Anthony will hold hours at CDL Fridays 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Dowagiac District Library will have social work hours from 11:30 am. to 1:30 p.m., and Niles will hold them 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays. For more information on SWIRSL, or to set up an appointment with a social worker, readers can call (269) 683-8545 ext. 111.

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