Public Library/Social Services Forums Update

In October and November, the Massachusetts Library System hosted four Public Library/Social Service Forums.  The idea for the forums was initially generated by my interest to explore whether our members might be interested in hosting social work field placements at public libraries.  To explore this idea, in August of 2017, we conducted a survey of public library directors and discovered that our membership is very interested to partner with social workers.

Social Service Forum

Public library directors were primarily interested to have a social worker onsite to:

  • Provide social services referrals
  • Lead staff development on topics like poverty, diversity, and social justice
  • Coordinate community awareness events on topics such as homelessness, diversity, and suicide prevention
  • Offer support for immigrants and citizenship.

The results of the survey revealed that this project should take a much broader scope and explore ways to foster not just social work partnerships, but social services partnerships.

What happened at the forums?  The library/social services forums included a brief update of the results of the survey followed by plenty of time for members to discuss issues facing their library’s community, to share how they are responding, and identify ways to co-create solutions.  Our members expressed concern about serving patrons who are experiencing homelessness, substance use disorders, and mental illness.  Attendees also shared about wanting to better serve immigrants with literacy and citizenship services.  Some members were concerned about hosting a social work field placement and were more interested in connecting with local agencies to get an experienced social worker on-site part-time.  At the end of the forums, we had an ideation activity to brainstorm and co-create creative and innovative library/social services partnerships.

Would you like to see all the ideas generated by the forums as well as the slides from the presentation?  Check out our Social Services Forums Resource Guide.

So, what’s next?  Stay tuned for:

Please feel free to reach out to me at to learn more about the forums and upcoming plans to further support public library/social services partnerships in Massachusetts.

-Michelle Eberle, Consultant

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The Springfield City Library Turning Outward

Have you thought about using the Turning Outward to Your Community step-by-step guide to better understand and connect with your library’s community?  In this month’s MLS Community Engagement Blog interview, Jean Canosa Albano, Assistant Director for Public Services at the Springfield City Library, shares her experience and insights from participating in the Libraries Transforming Communities initiative.

How did your library “turn outward to your community” using the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation’s process?

Jean Canosa Albano

Jean Canosa Albano

Jean Canosa Albano:  We are part of the Libraries Transforming Communities cohort, having received a grant from the American Library Association to learn about the Harwood Institute’s philosophy and methods of community engagement. My team of five staff members traveled to Denver, Chicago, and San Francisco for intensive training, and we learned about reframing the community narrative away from the negative (“we’ve tried that before,” “in the old days it worked better like this,” and “nothing ever works”) to a more positive, aspirational narrative (“we should have more opportunities to be outside in the community,” “a better mentorship network will help our community,” and “more discussion and conversation will lead to better coordination between neighbors and community agencies”). We learned how to turn outward, and base our policy and programmatic decisions on what we know about the community, rather than sitting around a board room, drawing on statistics, census data, and what other libraries are doing.

What did you learn about your community through the process?

Bill Walton and HCS HS Kids at Basketball Monument

Bill Walton at the Basketball Monument

Imagine a beloved park or a community center that you’ve visited for years or that symbolizes neighborhood pride. Suddenly, you find that park padlocked, or the community center boarded up. What would that feel like? For our neighborhood residents, that spot was a small park adjacent to the Mason Square Branch Library that commemorates the location of the first game of basketball.  When it first opened, it was a source of pride for neighborhood residents. But for over a year, its lighted glass panels had been boarded up. Through a series of Community Conversations, we heard about how unhappy people were with the delay in repair, and their belief that the panels were boarded up because of a fear of vandalism, not actual vandalism. This lack of trust between residents and institutions came across in many other ways, too, including participants telling us how hard it can be to mail a letter when the corner mailboxes have been removed from their streets. We carried this information forward, and other neighbors took action as well, and soon, the panels were uncovered, and the community took pride in the restoration of this space that connects the sport’s past to today. When basketball Hall of Famer Bill Walton recently visited Springfield, he came to the Mason Square Branch for a read-aloud, then toured the basketball park with dozens of Head Start students. It was a great day!

 How is your library staff using what you learned?

16 Acres Mural with City Councilor Marcus Williams

16 Acres Mural with City Councilor Marcus Williams

 We have used the Innovation Space technique to think about what we have been learning. It’s a way to pause and reflect and make sure that what we are doing matches what we are hearing from the community. For example, we used the practice to look at our Hi!Tech computer classes, revising the format and focusing on outcomes. Our monthly reports now include a section headed What Are We Hearing from the Community? We are not simply looking for comments on the library schedule or collections. We want to know what our community members’ aspirations and challenges are. Once, a librarian happened to mention the difficulty patrons have expressed getting jobs due to their CORI status. This is what we should be listening for. It lets us know that when a community group wants to hold a session on seeking employment post-incarceration, or if we have an opportunity to offer a program on closing a criminal record after paying your dues, that those are programs that will be of interest to members of our community. Continue reading

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Library/Social Services Partnership Forums

Businesspeople solving problem

Would building relationships with social services agencies help your library’s community?  Are you interested to provide more support for immigrants?  Are you curious to explore the viability of partnerships with social workers to offer social service referrals and create staff trainings on topics like diversity, poverty, and social justice? 


Join us for a community forum to explore library/social services partnerships.

 Background:  In August, MLS conducted a survey of the interest of Massachusetts library directors to partner with us to facilitate public library/social work partnerships. Over 50 library directors responded to the survey, and over half of the respondents expressed interest to collaborate with us. As a result of the survey, we decided to broaden the scope of this project from social work to social services partnerships.

How can you get involved?

Register to attend the forum at the location most convenient for you. 

What’s the agenda for the forum?

  • Learn about results of the survey and upcoming MLS programs.
  • If interested, share a brief update of your library’s experience. 
  • Participate in an innovation/ideation activity to identify future directions.  

Continue reading

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Graphic Medicine Book Discussion Kits

Do you love to lead book discussions?  Are you interested to support the health literacy of your community?  Then, this interview is for you!  Read on to learn more about graphic medicine book discussion kits freely available to your library from the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, New England Region in this interview with Matthew Noe.

Matthew Noe

Matthew Noe, Graphic Medicine Specialist

What is graphic medicine?

Matthew Noe: Graphic medicine refers to the intersection of comics and healthcare, or more bluntly, comic books about health topics. The field has emerged over the past decade-or-so as comics have grown in popularity and acclaim and as the importance of the humanities in medicine has been more widely recognized. These comics range from short, informational books like Pain is Really Strange to critically acclaimed graphic novels like Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? to children’s comics like Ghosts and Iggy and the Inhalers. Some help us build empathy, while others are meant to teach us something in a fun, accessible way, and the field grows by the day!

 Tell us about the NNLM NER’s Graphic Medicine Book Club Kits. 

The kits are an idea I had while visiting the Ypsilanti District Library, where they built a large graphic medicine collection, including loanable book club kits, via an ALA Will Eisner Grant. The idea is that many of the people who might have an interest in graphic medicine aren’t in a position to purchase the books and/or aren’t familiar with running a book club. Our kits address both of these issues by lending graphic novels and sharing a discussion guide and supplementary consumer health materials from the National Library of Medicine. Right now, we have 11 of these kits, on 10 different health topics – the addiction kit proved so immediately popular that we made a second kit. Each kit is typically lent out for a six-week period and I am available for help in planning and running club discussions.

Graphic Medicine Book Kit Flyer

 How can MLS members obtain the Graphic Medicine Book Club Kits?

The kits are available free-of-charge to organizations within New England and can be requested through a survey link at

What advice would you give librarians interested to lead a graphic medicine book discussion?

Three things come to mind. First: plan, plan, plan! The most successful uses of the kits have come from groups who either have a standing book club program or who have given thought to starting one, while those who struggle are going with a “build it and they will come” mentality. Second: be prepared to facilitate tough, emotionally challenging discussions. Most of our kits are built around graphic memoirs and they’ll have people laughing, crying, and everything in between. Remember not to feel beholden to the discussion guide questions – let the conversation happen as naturally as possible. Third: comics are for everyone, but remember Ranganathan’s Third Law: Every book its reader. Not everyone will enjoy every comic, nor is every comic necessarily for every audience. Be mindful when planning your club!

How did your career path lead you to such an interesting position – Graphic Medicine Specialist?

I get this question all the time! I actually found graphic medicine by accident while working as an intern during graduate school – I was supposed to be finding studies for a radiologist and missed wildly! This was around the same time I was becoming increasingly interested in comics as a reader and how they might be used to teach general literacy. In other words, it was a perfect storm of accidental luck! I spent the rest of my time in graduate school pursuing the field and have now spent the last year building collections and programming at UMass Medical School and NNLM NER.

Anything else you would like to share?

In addition to the book club kits, you can learn more about graphic medicine through this NNLM NER Introduction to Graphic Medicine webinar, meant to provide a wide overview of the field for librarians. Also be on the lookout for a recording of a panel on graphic medicine from the Massachusetts Independent Comic Expo, featuring a panel of comic creators (and me) discussing their approach to medically themed comics!

Interview with Matthew Noe, Graphic Medicine Specialist at the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, New England Region at the University of Massachusetts Medical School

Interviewed by Michelle Eberle, MLS Consultant

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Social Justice Program Reflection: Katie Beth Ryan

Katie Beth Ryan

On June 13, 2017, the Massachusetts Library System hosted a Spring Program, Talking Social Justice in Massachusetts Libraries:  Diversity to Equity. The program provided an opportunity for members to learn about social justice and identify actions to promote social justice in Massachusetts library communities. Social justice is a key theme of our strategic plan.   In the spirit of embracing co-creator culture, we invited Katie Beth Ryan, the Information Literacy Librarian at the American International College, to share her thoughts and insights about the spring meeting.  Thank you, Katie Beth, for taking the time to share your reflections!


Tell us about your experience attending the MLS program, Talking Social Justice in Massachusetts Libraries:  From Diversity to Equity.

Katie Beth Ryan (KBR): I had been looking forward to the MLS meeting on diversity, equity and social justice since I first saw the announcement for the program earlier in the spring. I was especially excited to see April Hathcock, whose blog and Twitter feed I follow, was the keynote speaker. I found myself feverishly taking notes during her talk, and during the afternoon talk by Alli Gofman and Ann Marie Willer from the MIT Libraries.

What take-away stuck with you most since attending the program?

KBR: It’s hard to name just one nugget of wisdom I took away from this day since so many were shared. I appreciated hearing how the MIT Libraries have incorporated diversity and equity principles into each aspect of library work, including outreach activities and hiring. I work at an institution much smaller than MIT, but Gofman and Willer offered perspective on scalability. Regardless of your work environment, you need to carefully identify your climate, audience, and the needs of your institution.

How will you integrate what you learned into your professional and personal life?

KBR: Since attending the program, I’ve been thinking of ways to incorporate principles of equity into my work, whether it’s including my preferred pronouns into my email signature, or creating thought-provoking library displays. I also walked away from the meeting with ideas for how to constructively confront others on biases and microaggressions. Overall, the meeting pushed me to continue to educate myself on whiteness, both in the LIS profession and in society as a whole, and to consider what steps I can take to make my library environment a truly welcoming, diverse and inclusive place for all who study and work there.

What further support would you like MLS to provide to foster social justice in Massachusetts libraries?

KBR: I’ve attended a few MLS webinars and have found them valuable. I’d love to see MLS build upon the momentum of the spring program by offering webinars on diversity and social justice topics within libraries. These would be one way of reaching people who were not able to attend the meeting, and to continue the conversation among librarians throughout the Commonwealth.

What other reflections would you like to share?

KBR: I’ve spent a lot of time thinking critically about how I can support and affirm people of color, LGBTQ people and immigrants. As Hathcock noted in her talk, libraries have long been a place pervaded by whiteness. We need to be committed to building diversity with our profession, so that it reflects the demographics of our country, and supporting colleagues of color. I appreciate MLS offering librarians a chance to consider how we can break down oppression within libraries.

Interview with Katie Beth Ryan, Information Literacy Librarian at the American International College

 Interviewed by Michelle Eberle, MLS Consultant

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