Saskatoon library hires outreach workers to meet social needs of visitors

The library is hiring outreach workers, because librarians and other workers may not have the time or knowledge needed to be able to meet the needs of everyone who is coming through the doors at the downtown branch.

Frances Morrison library a refuge for people in need of more than just a good book

There is a growing demand for support well beyond book recommendations these days at the downtown branch of the Saskatoon public library, so they are hiring two full time outreach workers. (Jessica Ruscello/Unsplash)

There's a shift happening at the Frances Morrison Central Library in downtown Saskatoon.

No longer is it a place simply to check out book, the library has also become a refuge for those with nowhere else to go.

"We are seeing the need come in the door," said Beth Cote, director of public services for Saskatoon Public Library.

They are one of the last places in our society where you can come in, you can use the washroom, you can sit and read.- Beth Cote

In an interview with CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning, Cote said that the library is hiring outreach workers to "meet people at their point of need."

"People often come into the library, they are seeking either warmth or a safe space. They may be people who either do or don't access other social services in the community and it's really just being able to answer the depth of those questions," Cote said.

The library's Beth Cote said that staff is sometimes not in the best position to meet the needs of people, and may resort to calling police, when other social support orgaizations might be more appropriate. (CBC)

Librarians overwhelmed 

The problem, Cote said, is that librarians and other library workers may not have the time or knowledge needed to be able to meet some of those needs. Sometimes they feel they have no options other than to contact police.

Cote said that outreach workers should be in a better position to make that call.

"Being able to identify just when it is a need to call police, or when it is something that just a security guard can deal with and when it is something maybe those are not the appropriate service and there needs to be another service in the community that a person is connected with."

The two full-time outreach workers are set to begin work on October 1st, and are both registered social workers. 

They will join forces with a team of librarians and are all working to meet the complex needs of some of the people who've come to see the library as a safe place.

Public space 

Outreach seems to extend the library's mission well past lending books and helping people access the information they need, but Cote sees this as core work that is appropriate for a public space.

"[Libraries] are democratic spaces," she said. 

"They are one of the last places in our society where you can come in, you can use the washroom, you can sit and read, you can sit and look out the window, nobody is going to ask you to buy something, and nobody is going to ask you to leave."

The full-time hires come as the result of a pilot program that worked to track the needs at the library and helped build the case for better outreach.

The need has been there for some time Cote said, adding that with the downturn in the provincial economy, the demand for help has only increased.

With files from CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning


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