Rachel Lippmann, May 10, 2021
Starting in the fall, users of five St. Louis County library branches will be able to get help from an on-site licensed social worker.
The St. Louis County Children’s Service Fund is covering the majority of the $715,000 cost of the Community Resource Initiative. The social workers, who are employed by an organization the fund already uses, will help connect library users with services like mental health care, job training and treatment for substance use disorder.
Though the program is intended for those 19 and younger, no one will be turned away, said the fund’s executive director, Emily Koenig.
“We know that the library sees individuals who are coming in, vulnerable individuals, who may not be connected to a broader system like a school system,” she said. “And so it really just made sense for us to engage in this partnership opportunity.”
The Children’s Service Fund gets its revenue from a ¼-cent sales tax, and a board of directors authorizes the spending. Because the fund can only serve those 19 and younger, the library is covering 40% of the cost.
Library branches have long been viewed as community hubs, said Kristen Sorth, executive director of the county library system. During the pandemic, people could pick up food, diapers and Wi-Fi hotspots, even though the buildings themselves were closed.
“It’s just a place where I think people are really comfortable coming,” Sorth said of the decision to have social workers in the buildings. “It just seems like a logical place. We have parking, we’re open pretty long hours. It’s just a place where people come when they don’t know where else to go. There’s no stigma associated with being there.”
In addition to providing help to patrons, the social workers will also train the staff at the five branches to help those who might be in crisis, a component that Sorth calls “very, very important.”
“We want to equip our employees with all kinds of resources to handle situations that come up,” she said.
The pilot program will last two years, but both fund and library leaders hope to find ways to make it permanent and expand it to other branches.