Linking People: Supporting Our Most Vulnerable

As I ponder the question Professor Stephens left us at the end of the Module 5 lecture: Who needs community and support and how do we reach them? (Stephens, 2019), I can’t help but reflect on my time spent at the Public Defender’s Office working with people who had mental health issues, who lived in poverty or were homeless, who were ostracized, those with addiction issues, in crisis, those with a rough past or present who needed someone to help them, to listen to them, to treat them like humans. Most often, it was the respectful listening that helped me earn a rapport with many of our clients, truly listening and responding without judgement. This is also what librarians do: listen and help patrons without judgement and treat their communities with respect. While reading Lauersen (2018), I was once again reminded of the implicit biases everyone carries with them and how these biases can segregate and isolate people. We need to be mindful of these biases in order to move past them and include those that need to feel included. Those people, Lauersen (2018) wrote, need to be asked to dance.

To answer the first question posited by Professor Stephens, it is these groups with the social stigmas or those that are at risk who need community and support. Stigmas can be isolating, and isolated groups are vulnerable groups. Klinenberg (2018) emphasized the importance of community on our most vulnerable populations like teens in poor neighborhoods with no safe spaces or elderly people with no one to look after them. I would also include other isolated populations such as those with mental illness, homeless populations, and those living in crime-stricken areas. Klinenberg (2018) insists that that inclusion of others, especially those living in isolation, exposes people to others who are different from themselves. This diversity creates strong community bonds and the library is a perfect place to do that.

The Orange County Library System employs a social worker to help vulnerable populations in their area.

The issue remains, however: how do we reach them? The theme of this module is a hyperlinked community and, as Stephens (2019) said, people are hyperlinks too. Outreach services may get the ball rolling on reaching the vulnerable populations. Reaching out to community leaders of neighborhoods who need more support, mental health services, homeless shelters, even perhaps jails or prison libraries and asking them what the library can do to support those who need it would be a start. Maybe those recently released from jail need a career workshop or a technology workshop to help them learn new skills and help bridge the digital divide. Maybe teens who are isolated or at risk need access to safe spaces such as a creativity lab, music club, or poetry slam group to keep them engaged in learning, create an outlet for frustrations, or to help them make friends and create their own support system. The path a library needs to take may not be clear and there is not a one-size-fits-all for programming, but reaching out and linking the library to those who work with vulnerable populations every day is a first step.

BONUS! Something to Listen to:

On an episode of This American Life, in Growing-Shelf Awareness, a segment of The Room of Requirement, Stephanie Foo (2018) recounts her experience as a homeless child not realizing she was homeless due to the public library: https://www.thisamericanlife.org/664/the-room-of-requirement/act-three-4

This podcast emphasizes the importance of including our vulnerable populations, such as the homeless, in our libraries and what it can mean to actually include those who are normally ostracized in our communities.

References

Foo, S. (2018, December 28). The Room of Requirement Act Three: Growing Shelf-Awareness. Retrieved from https://www.thisamericanlife.org/

Klinenberg, E. (2018). Palaces for the people: How social infrastructure can help fight inequality, polarization, and the decline of civic life. New York, NY: Crown.

Lauersen, C. (2018). Do you want to dance? Inclusion and belonging in libraries and beyond. The Library Lab. [Web blog]. Retrieved from https://christianlauersen.net/2018/06/07/inclusion-and-belonging-in-libraries-and-beyond/

oclsvideos. (2018, August 24). Library Social Worker. [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DjwKD378XQY

Stephens, M. (2019). The hyperlinked library: Hyperlinked communities. [Video lecture]. Retrieved from https://sjsu-ischool.hosted.panopto.com/Panopto/Pages/Viewer.aspx?id=bdb39d41-e4a7-4b33-9da4-aab40117c7e8

1 comment
  1. Britt – Thanks for sharing the video and podcast links and your ideas about the question I posed to the class in the module. I like your ideas for outreach. I am reminded of two librarians I met at Vancouver PL who were going out to the parts of the city that some called “skid row” to do information service to drug users. They were dedicated and amazing. Sadly, I lost track of their project.

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