Program brings social workers to library setting

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library in San Jose, CADeborah Estreicher, head librarian at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library in San Jose, Calif., had an idea.

“Being a librarian, I came across many people that needed social work services,” Estreicher said. As librarians, “we helped in the best way we could. But I thought it would be better to have something in place — a service where people could go if they needed help.”

The San Jose public library also serves as the student library for San Jose State University, so Estreicher instinctively reached out to Peter Allen Lee, professor and acting director of the School of Social Work at the university. Lee, in collaboration with Glenn Thomas, the Region B director of the NASW California Chapter, and his wife, Cyndy Thomas, also a social worker, saw the idea as an opportunity to give back to the community and add a dimension to the social work degree program offered at SJSU.

“Volunteer professional social workers provide the majority of the face-to-face consultation in the Social Workers in the Library program, with SJSU MSW students also playing a key supportive role,” Lee said. “During the conceptualization phase of the program, our graduate students were the main supporters of our needs assessment, where they conducted surveys with library visitors.”

The research data helped to develop the SWITL program in partnership with the San Jose Public Library and NASW, he said.

“In addition to our ongoing services, we have a research component funded by our College of Applied Sciences and Arts, and in collaboration between the School of Social Work and the School of Library and Information Sciences for a program evaluation studying the effectiveness of SWITL,” Lee said.

Thomas said the program is helpful for individuals who are members of the community.

“The library is a neutral setting for families seeking information and referral to often complex systems,” he said. “The NASW California Chapter has been a supporter of the library and SJSU School of Social Work from the beginning.”

The concept of the SWITL program is not necessarily novel, but it is practical, said NASW California Chapter Executive Director Janlee Wong. Those who are unemployed or homeless without regular access to newspapers and the internet often seek the free resources public libraries offer. Having a social worker at such a location provides an opportunity for those who need help to easily obtain information on how to get it.

“Clients need to come where the social worker is located, but that doesn’t always work. This way, we can go to where the needy individual is located,” Wong said.

The San Jose SWITL program now offers 20-minute consultations every first and fourth Monday of the month from 6 to 8 p.m., and interpretation services are available. Recently, the program has extended to the Biblioteca Latinoamericana Branch Library in San Jose, where the same 20-minute consultations are offered every third Monday of the month. The program is staffed by NASW California Chapter member volunteers. Those seeking help through SWITL are informed that the program is for informational sessions only and the consultations are not to be confused with receiving treatment from a licensed social worker.

Those interested in making an appointment or volunteering with SWITL can call 940-808-2350. Appointments are preferred; walk-ins will be assisted on a first-come, first-served basis.