Multi-braries — The Changing Face of Public Libraries

Burt Constable:

The notion of your local library as a place where you go to borrow a book seems almost as antiquated as an actual hardcover book. Suburban residents use libraries as business offices, resource centers, movie providers, club headquarters, language centers, game parlors, tax consultants, social media hubs, classrooms, lecture halls, concert venues, coffee shops and sometimes simply shelter from the storms of life.

Homeless people often hang out at libraries. Some parents treat the library as a free baby-sitter for young children. Some adults regard the library as a safe place to leave an aging parent with dementia issues. Traditionally the hub for all things literary, libraries can be a literal lifeline for some. In March, the suburban Oak Park Library will add a social worker to its staff….

“As you walk through the building, you can see people who are here for a long part of the day,” says Julie Rothenfluh, executive director of the Naperville Public Library. She and her staff are working on a strategic plan for a future that includes “unserved or underserved” pockets of the suburbs.

“We haven’t had a demand to add a social worker,” Rothenfluh says. “That’s what we’ll be looking at — where are the demands?”

In San Francisco, where the nation’s first library social worker was hired in 2008, public libraries now offer mobile showers once a week.

“Someone who needs a shower can come to the library and take a shower every Friday in the parking lot,” says Julie Todaro, president-elect of theAmerican Library Association. While saying that “it is a wonderful connection when a library hires an expert in social work,” Todaro says virtually every library continues to improve that link between the traditional library and new social services.

“We try to get people connected with the services already out there. We’re the glue,” says Stephanie Sarnoff, director of the Schaumburg Township District Library.

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