library history, social work


Presentation at the "The Pasts and Futures of the Library Conference," California State University Fullerton, CA.

In Whole person librarianship: a social work approach to patron services, Zettervall and Nienow (2019) aptly refer to librarianship and social work as “sister professions” (p.1), highlighting their gendered histories and similar professional values. A review of recent publications in library science journals and offerings at conferences reveals an interest in collaborations between librarians and social workers in a variety of settings, from social workers and social work students employed at public and academic libraries, to librarians and library staff being trained in social work theories and methods. Such claims about the importance of sharing across disciplines are not without their critics, though, with some librarians stressing that they are (and should) not be expected to be social workers. Looking back at the history of both professions, one can identify significant commonalities. Questions about professional identity that have plagued librarians since the early days also play a prominent role in the history of social workers, and the professional literature in each disciplines employs a gendered language that magnifies anxieties about the professional status of both fields. The duties and roles of social workers and librarians have drastically transformed to reflect the changing times. However much the two professions are similar, though, I contend that understanding their differences is key to preserving the status of both professions. While there are and will continue to be examples of effective collaboration between librarians and social workers, being asked (or required) to fill roles interchangeably diminishes the value of both professions.

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Conference Presentation


Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


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