Pilot program brings social worker to Thunder Bay library

Clients of the Thunder Bay Public Library can now browse books, and meet with a social worker, in the same space.

'It comes down to meeting people where they're at,' said Joanne Boucher

The social worker pilot program at the Brodie Resource Library in Thunder Bay is about bringing support services to people where they already gather, say Joanne Boucher, housing services coordinator for Alpha Court, and Tina Tucker, director of communities for the Thunder Bay Public Library. (Amy Hadley/ CBC)

Clients of the Thunder Bay Public Library can now browse books, and meet with a social worker, in the same space. 

This summer, the library launched a 12-week pilot program that places a social worker at Brodie Resource Library for several hours each week. 

"It comes down to meeting people where they're at," said Joanne Boucher, who is now available to meet with people at the library either during her Thursday afternoon office hours, or by appointment. 

"I thought it was a really cool idea," said Boucher, who is a housing services coordinator for Alpha Court Community Mental Health & Addictions Services.

Already, she said, she has helped several library clients to fill out housing applications.
Social worker Joanne Boucher and Thunder Bay Public Library staff member Tina Tucker chat in the Brodie library reading room. (Amy Hadley/CBC)

The idea of social workers in the library is becoming more common, said Tina Tucker, the director of communities for the Thunder Bay Public Library, noting that the Edmonton Public Library has been a leader for this in Canada.

Libraries offer a free, warm place for people to spend time, and are a natural gathering place, said Tucker, so it makes sense to offer supports, beyond what library workers can provide. 

"Library staff are not social workers," she said. "So when we see people that are experiencing mental health issues or issues with addiction, or they need support to find clothing or food or housing ... often, we don't know where to send them." 

"Social workers have that depth of knowledge that we simply don't have." 

The program is part of the growing role of libraries as community hubs, Tucker said. 

The library, and its partners in the pilot program, hope to access funds to continue and expand the program after its initial 12 weeks are up, said Tucker.