Social Work Interest Group

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This community is for anyone interested in learning more about social work in public libraries. The PLA Social Worker Task Force will use this space to discuss issues facing public libraries, provide a space to connect with others, generate and share best practices and resources.
  • 1.  Social Worker Role in Front Line De-escalation

    Posted Jul 23, 2020 05:25 PM
    Hi everyone,

    I am curious if the social workers in your library play a role in front line de-escalation in your library. By that, I mean when there is a potentially volatile or escalating situation involving a vulnerable patron (say someone experiencing intoxication or with mental health concerns), do they help resolve the situation or get involved? If so, in what capacity? Do they have a role in enforcing library rules at all?

    What does that look like in your library?

    Amanda L.

  • 2.  RE: Social Worker Role in Front Line De-escalation

    Posted Oct 26, 2020 07:30 PM
    Hello Amanda,

    I'm trying to explore the same question you have. I recently started this new position and continue to explore the best practice. I hope we find the answers together.

    Veronica Klimek
    Family Center Counselor
    Middle Country Public Library

  • 3.  RE: Social Worker Role in Front Line De-escalation

    Posted Oct 27, 2020 10:40 AM
    Hi Amanda,

    This is a great question and a great conversation. I hope more people bring their experiences.

    I am a social worker but do not do direct service work. I work in administration and am not on the floor. I supervise three peers experiencing homelessness who are meeting with people at our branches. They will help out with some situations, but I do not see that as their role. DCPL has a public safety department. These people have guns and get paid much more money then the peers that work for me.

    I believe the first line of defense in de-escalating is with the front-line staff. Librarians, library associates, anyone working directly with customers need to have some skills in de-escalation. DCPL works with a local organization that teaches staff de-escalation skills. That being said, it does not always go as planned and DCPL public safety officers step-in. I would like to see DCPL bring on social workers who have specific training and a background in de-escalation. I am working on that. I do not have those expertise and again, I am not working on the floor of the library. As we as a society consider alternatives to calling the police, I think it is important that we have people skilled in de-escalation.  Really skilled, not just sort of skilled. I also think libraries need to rethink some of our rules of behavior. At DCPL we have a no sleeping policy. Waking people up escalates situations. What is our goal of having a no-sleeping policy? We say it is about making sure people are safe and healthy. I don't buy that. Honestly, people who are homeless are not getting a good night sleep and nodding off at the library, something I did in college often, seems reasonable to me. There are probably more people using computers then nodding off.

    I do not think it is the responsibility of the DCPL Peers to enforce rules. What my goal is, is that the peers build trust with consumer who are homeless or struggling with mental health illness. Enforcing rules does not help build trust. Peers can affirm the rules and help interpret and relay consequences of not following rules, but that is different than enforcing.

    Some of our officers have specific training in crisis intervention.

    Those are my initial thoughts. Would love the hear from others.


    Jean Badalamenti, MSW
    Health and Human Services Manager
    Service Design and Engagement
    DC Public Library

  • 4.  RE: Social Worker Role in Front Line De-escalation

    Posted Oct 27, 2020 12:06 PM

    Thanks for sharing your experience! I also would love to hear from others as safety in libraries is an important issue.


    Amanda Lepage


  • 5.  RE: Social Worker Role in Front Line De-escalation

    Posted Oct 27, 2020 07:21 PM
    Hi Amanda,
    At our library  system we hired a person in the role of "social worker" but transitioned it to a more system wide coordinator role. When she did direct service in a library she was not responsible for managing behavior or security issues. I think if the person has a relationship with the patron it may make sense, but sometimes can escalate the situation. We also didn't want their role to be associated with being corrective which we felt would create a barrier to accessing services from them down the line. We offer our staff Nonviolent Crisis Intervention training through CPI (Crisis Prevention Institute). We have 4 staff that are certified trainers and we are working to get all our front line staff certified and re-certified every 3 years. We have a few libraries that have security (unarmed) present but most don't. In addition to NVCI our staff receive MHFA and Trauma Informed Care trainings as well. We hope to develop staff skills to intervene early with a lens of care to de-escalate situations before resorting to any security measure.  We are also in the process of adding peers to our team and I agree with Jean that their role should be to solely connect with patrons and not be punitive.  My two cents. :)


    Melissa Munn
    Community Conduct Coordinator
    King County Library System

  • 6.  RE: Social Worker Role in Front Line De-escalation

    Posted Oct 27, 2020 08:31 PM
    Hey y'all - 
    We aren't involved in de-esculation when it happens outside of our office and interactions directly with customers. We have a security department and one of the prerequisites for them is to have former law enforcement experience, if I recall correctly. We are called into instances where customers may have issues - but those calls involve our services - helping a child whose parent is being arrested in the library, calling DSS for an abandoned child... those kinds of things. 

    I have coordinated a few trainings with staff that include de-esculation techniques, which is important for staff to know on their own, since we work in our own section away from other public service staff. I will jump in if I see something before Security gets involved, but once they are present, I back out unless there is a need for me. It's not my area of expertise. 

    Thank you, 

    Though we are out of the office, we are still assisting our community online and over the phone. Call us at 803.386.8506 and leave a message, send us a text at that number, or email us using

    Lee Patterson, LMSW

    Pronouns: She/Her/Hers
    Library Social Work Manager 
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