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 will design and conduct a statewide needs assessment of public libraries in Iowa. The needs assessment will focus on staff perceptions of patron psychosocial needs and assess 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 will take into consideration the rural context of many of the state's public libraries and distinguish between urban and rural libraries in the report and recommendations. The needs assessment methods will include:

  • Surveys
  • Focus groups
  • In-depth qualitative interviews

Recommendations for next steps will be included in the final report, which will be availalbe to public libraries and posted on this webpage.


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.jpegDr. Beth Wahler is focused 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. Dr. Wahler emphasizes community engagement in her work, previously partnering with a large community mental health provider in central Indiana to develop and lead the Behavioral Health Academy, which prepared students for practice with mental health, substance use, and co-occurring disorders and to become dually licensed as both a licensed clinical social worker and licensed clinical addiction counselor.

Dr. Beth Wahler began as professor and director of the School of Social Work in September 2021. Prior to working at UNC Charlotte, she was the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the Indiana University School of Social Work. Prior to earning a doctorate, Wahler worked as a practitioner and supervisor for more than 14 years. Her practice experience was primarily with individuals living in poverty attempting to overcome substance use disorders, mental health problems, learning disabilities and intimate partner violence victimization.

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.