New York City libraries hire social workers

The library has long been a place where you can find more than just books. But on top of internet service, municipal ID signup, and air conditioning on a hot day, many city branches now offer access to social workers as well.

"We have 11 and a half million people who come through our doors, and a lot of those individuals have different types of challenges and our role is to make sure we try to provide as much assistance to them as much as possible," said Dennis Walcott, President of the Queens Public Library, where about a dozen case managers serve clients at the various branches.

The social workers are paid for by city and state grants.

"They are there, not just for the direct service, but to help the emotional needs of individuals, the physical needs of individuals," Walcott said.

Shantel Johnson is the Case Management Coordinator for the Queens Public Library and says housing and immigration assistance, English language instruction and adult basic education are among the services they help patrons access.

"If they come in, let's say for English language classes, oh talking about I need help with housing, we try to say, oh there's someone on site that can help you with that issue," Johnson explained.

She estimated hundreds of patrons take advantage of the social workers daily across the Queens Library system.

"They can help you find a job," said Vincent Smith, who has long sought services at the library's central branch. "It's just good to have them here because people need social workers."

The extra help is also beneficial to librarians, who previously tried to help patrons with non-library related issues, but weren't always prepared to do so.

"A lot of these questions take time to give the best answer, sometimes it takes a dialogue that we may not have time at the reference desk to give," said librarian Lianna Kelley.

Social workers aren't just popping up at New York libraries. Nationally the trend is taking hold as municipalities seek to reach vulnerable patrons in the community-hubs where they've long gravitated.