Abstract: Challenges and Opportunities of a Public Library in the U.S. As a Social Service Provider (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

270P Challenges and Opportunities of a Public Library in the U.S. As a Social Service Provider

Friday, January 17, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Junghee Bae, MA, PhD Candidate, University of Georgia, Athens, GA
Anna Scheyett, PhD, Dean, University of Georgia, Athens, GA
Mary Caplan, Ph.D., Associate Professor, University of Georgia
Jennifer Elkins, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Georgia, GA
Caroline Sharkey, MSW, Faculty, University of Georgia
Sunwoo Lee, M.S.W., PhD student, University of Georgia, Athens, GA
Introduction: This study aims to identify the challenges and opportunities of public libraries as social service providers through examining perceptions and attitudes of library staff related to patrons, trauma-informed care, and social inclusion. In the U.S., public libraries have played an important role as community centers for many citizens by offering not only books but also indirect and direct social services. However, there has been a lack of knowledge on how to better serve disadvantaged patrons through public libraries. This research is based on an academic-community partnership with a regional public library to create a trauma-informed and inclusive library system.

Methods: This study administered two online surveys to library staff. The first survey examined the overall perception of diverse patrons. The second survey examined attitudes about trauma-informed care and social inclusion by utilizing two psychometrically valid measures - the Attitude Related to Trauma-Informed Care Scale and the Attitude on Social Inclusion Scale. The data were collected from December 3, 2018 to March 13, 2019 through Qualtrics. Of the 140 library staff contacted, a total of 93 individuals responded to the first survey (response rate = 66%), and a total of 51 individuals responded to the second survey (response rate = 40%). Univariate analysis and bivariate analysis were conducted by using SPSS version 23.

Findings: The findings show that library staff perceived that poverty (80%), unemployment (80%), homelessness (75%), mental health illness (67%), and health issues (67%) were the most pressing problems that library patrons have. Library staff expressed the lowest confidence in serving patrons who experience substance abuse (Mean = 2.7), violence (Mean = 2.7), criminal justice system involvement (Mean = 2.9), homelessness (Mean = 3.1), and mental health illness (Mean = 3.1).  Library staff had favorable attitudes on trauma-informed care (Mean = 5.1) across subscales focusing on: their perception of underlying causes, responses to problem behavior, on the job behavior, self-efficacy at work, and reactions to the work. Library staff perceived that social inclusion through a public library is important (Mean = 3.43) in terms of social isolation, social relations, and social acceptance. Sample characteristics did not have a statistically significant association with the attitude on trauma-informed care. Gender (F = 5.143,p< .01) and staff role (F = 3.813,p< .05) had statistically significant relationship with the attitude on social inclusion. 

Conclusion: The findings point to the important potential role that public libraries in the U.S. can have in the provision of inclusive, trauma informed social services. Creating a trauma-informed library is crucial not only for disadvantaged patrons but also for library staff to address their own reactions and ability to interact effectively with all patrons. Developing tailored trainings and embedding social workers in the public library can lead to increased knowledge, effectiveness and satisfaction in providing holistic services in the library.