Library social worker visits Dowagiac Rotary Club

Published 10:05 am Friday, February 22, 2019

DOWAGIAC — Increasingly, local libraries are becoming more than just places to check out a good read. Instead, they are becoming community centers that can help provide patrons with the resources they need. At least, that was the perspective of this week’s visitor to the Dowagiac Rotary Club.

Social worker Tiffany Russell presented to the Dowagiac Rotary Club Thursday to share with the club about the work she and her team of graduate students are doing in local libraries across the southwest Michigan area.

Russell is a full-time social worker with Social Workers in Small and Rural Libraries, a grant-funded partnership between the Niles District Library and six other libraries in the region, including the Dowagiac District Library and the Cass District Library. The program works to connect library patrons with information about social services available in their communities and to develop collaborative relationships with local service agencies.

“We are equipped to handle questions that libraries aren’t trained to handle,” Russell said. “People are often coming to us asking for resources to help them with their utility bills or people might be facing eviction … Libraries often aren’t trained to take such a deep dive into personal information. We are trained to know those local resources and connect people to them.”

Russell said the most common request is for assistance from homeless clients and those seeking affordable housing. Job and employment assistance is also a popular request.

So far, Russell said the program is a success that has generated a positive response. However, she said the program is still getting integrated into the southwest Michigan community.

“Right now, we are just trying to get people used to having a social worker in a library, because that is just not something that you hear about in our area,” she said. “This idea is something you see a lot on the east coast, but it is relatively new here.”

More than just meeting one-on-one with residents, Russell said the social workers provide other services including offering training to library staff about local resources and how to answer information related questions.

“We have offered a number of trainings and workshops,” she said.

Matt Weston, director of the Dowagiac District Library, said that he is grateful to have the social workers in the library and that he believes they have helped local residents.

“It has helped us a lot,” he said.

To talk with a licensed social worker or a social work intern, call (269) 683-8545 or visit the following library locations at the following times.

• Benton Harbor Public Library —9 a.m. to noon Tuesdays

• Watervliet District Library — 1 to 4 p.m. Tuesdays

• Cass District Library — 9 to 11 a.m. Fridays

• Dowagiac District Library — 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Fridays

• Bridgman Public Library — 3 to 5 p.m. Fridays

• Covert Branch Library — 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays

• Niles District Library — 3 to 6 p.m. Saturdays