Official State of Iowa Website

Social Work in Iowa Libraries

Libraries continue to be the one of the first places Iowans turn to for assistance with community needs beyond library services. The pandemic has further highlighted the important role libraries and librarians play in their community. Social workers have been working in collaboration with libraries for over a decade, and the State Library is interested in exploring opportunities to help more libraries offer these resources to their patrons. 

The State Library is partnering with Dr. Beth Wahler, Director of the School of Social Work at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte to help identify psychosocial needs of Iowa library patrons, such as resources for poverty, mental health problems, substance abuse, or health problems.  

Dr. Wahler's research focus is on helping public libraries address the psychosocial needs of their patrons, including conducting needs assessments with individual library systems, identifying strategies for improving their capacity to respond to patron needs and piloting social work practicum units or other social work collaborations.

Statewide Needs Assessment Project

In 2022, Dr. Wahler and her team designed and conducted a statewide needs assessment of public libraries in Iowa. The needs assessment focused on staff perceptions of patron psychosocial needs and assessed gaps in the ability to meet those needs, as well as an assessment of staff and library readiness for adding a social service component (referral and information regarding psychosocial needs, not clinical services) to library services.

The needs assessment took into consideration the rural context of many of the state's public libraries and distinguished between urban and rural libraries in the report and recommendations. The needs assessment methods included:

  • Surveys
  • Focus groups
  • In-depth qualitative interviews

Statewide Needs Assessment Results

Dr. Wahler presented the results from the needs assessment and her recommendations in a webinar on Feb. 9, 2023. The recorded webinar is available to watch below.

Interested in earning Continuing Education Credit for watching the webinar? View it in IA Learns

Download the Presenatation Slides

Recorded Webinar - Libraries and Social Workers: What a Collaboration Could Look Like in Your Library

Social workers have been working in collaboration with libraries for over a decade. They address patron psychosocial needs, such as resources for poverty, mental health problems, substance abuse, or health problems. This successful collaboration is found across the country in urban and rural libraries. Dr. Beth Wahler, Director of the School of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, is a key researcher on these collaborative efforts with a specific focus on smaller library systems. In this webinar, she will present several models of what addressing patron psychosocial needs could look like in your library. Dr. Wahler will also explain her collaboration with the State Library of Iowa and how you can get involved. The results from Dr. Wahler’s research will inform the State Library how best to support Iowa libraries going forward. 

Watch the recorded webinar:

Iowa Librarians: Earn CE Credit in IA Learns

About Dr. Beth Wahler

Beth Wahler2.jpegBeth Wahler, PhD, MSW is founder and principal consultant at Beth Wahler Consulting, LLC and faculty in the School of Social Work at the University of North Carolina- Charlotte. Dr. Wahler is a social work consultant, researcher, and administrator whose primary focus is trauma-informed librarianship, addressing public library patrons’ psychosocial needs (needs related to mental health, substance abuse, poverty, etc.), supporting library staff with serving high-needs patrons and reducing work-related stress/trauma, and various kinds of collaborations, services, and programs to meet these types of patron and staff needs.

She has worked with multiple public libraries- urban, suburban, and rural- as well as large library systems and state library associations to provide personalized training opportunities, conduct needs assessments, and develop individualized plans to help meet the needs of their patron populations and staff. She has also published and presented internationally on library patron and staff needs, trauma-informed librarianship, and library/social work collaborations. She is author of a forthcoming book, Creating a Person-Centered Library: Best Practices for Supporting High-Needs Patrons, focusing on strategies for supporting patrons with psychosocial needs while simultaneously supporting library staff. Prior to her current work, she was a practitioner and supervisor for 14 years primarily with individuals living in poverty attempting to overcome substance use disorders, mental health problems, learning disabilities, intimate partner violence, and/or poverty-related challenges.

More About Dr. Wahler

imls_logo_2c.jpgThe Social Work in Iowa Libraries program is supported by the Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the American Rescue Plan Act as administered by the State Library of Iowa.