You can now 'borrow' a social worker at the Kitchener Public Library

Kym Bohachewski is a social worker who is now available to answer questions from patrons at the Kitchener Public Library three days a week. It's a 'great fit' to have a social worker on hand, library staff say, because people go to KPL looking for more than just a good book.

'The library has tonnes of resources and I’m another one that people now can access,' says social worker

Kym Bohachewski is a social worker who is spending three days a week at the Kitchener Public Library, helping customers who come in and who need her services. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Long gone are the days when librarians were simply asked to recommend a good book.

Now, library staff members are asked a number of questions that range from homework help to local tourism to aiding someone who needs community services.

It's part of the reason some libraries have started introducing a social worker to their staff, and Kitchener Public Library (KPL) is no different.

"I think of my role as a resource. The library has tonnes of resources and I'm another one that people now can access," says Kym Bohachewski, who has been a social worker for 17 years and is currently working on her master's degree at Wilfrid Laurier University.

We need to evolve and we want to be as relevant and useful to the community as we possibly can be.- Laura Reed, Kitchener Public Library

As part of her school work, she's completing a practicum placement at KPL, which means she's in the building for three days a week.

"I'm basically acting as a resource, so whether I'm a resource for staff – maybe library users are coming to them with some questions around finding some things in the community and staff can come to me – or I can work directly with the library customers," Bohachewski said.

Social worker a 'great fit'

Laura Reed, the manager of children's and teen services at KPL and the person overseeing Bohachewski's work placement, said having a social worker on hand is a "great fit."

"Public libraries are evolving. We're not what we were 10 years ago, or 20 years ago or two years ago. And that's especially true here in Kitchener with this new space and this beautiful new building and all the changes that are happening in Kitchener and downtown Kitchener. We need to evolve and we want to be as relevant and useful to the community as we possibly can be," she said.

People are initially surprised to hear there is a social worker at the library, but that quickly turns to people saying it makes sense, Reed said.

"We see an absolute cross-section of society here and often encounter customers with complex needs and we want to be able to help as much as we can," she said.
Laura Reed, the manager of children's and teen services at Kitchener Public Library, says libraries are evolving and are no longer just about books. 'We need to evolve and we want to be as relevant and useful to the community as we possibly can be,' she said. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Part of growing trend

It's not a new idea – but it's also not an idea that has taken off everywhere yet.

The San Francisco Public Library hired a social worker in 2009 when staff started to notice a large number of patrons were homeless.

Since then, a trend has formed in the United States and spread into Canada. Edmonton, Winnipeg and Hamilton have social workers as well, while Brantford added a child and youth worker in response to problems with unruly teens and Toronto has a public health nurse who works out of the reference library.

"Some people might not access existing social services, but visit EPL knowing it's a safe, friendly space," Edmonton Public Library says on its website. "In collaboration with library staff, our three outreach staff (all registered social workers) work in and outside four branches ... But their impact reaches well beyond the library's walls."

KPL hopes to continue program after April

A big part of what Bohachewski can offer people is simple: it's her time.

"I've got the time to sit down and kind of chat with people and look at what might be helpful after talking with them and hearing what their needs are, and trying to find some way to connect them up with a resource," she said.

The library has tonnes of resources and I'm another one that people now can access.- Kym Bohachewski, social worker

"Being able to do that, being able to sit down with somebody and work with a customer and know that OK, yeah, this has been helpful for them, they've said this is great, I didn't know about so-and-so, and then they're able to go and utilize that, that's a great thing."

Bohachewski started working at the library in September and will be there until April. A big part of her job over the next few months will be training staff members to be able to find the proper resources for people coming in with questions.

Reed said they hope to have another social work student come in and fill Bohachewski's shoes, but it will be up to the students.

In the meantime, staff will gain a better understanding of the services in the community that could help patrons in need.

"This just is another way that we can really help the people in our community," Reed said.


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