Whole Person Librarianship

A Social Work Approach to Patron Services

by Sara K. Zettervall and Mary C. Nienow


Highlights the connections rapidly being made between librarians and social workers and explains how to create those partnerships.

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Cover image for Whole Person Librarianship

August 2019

Libraries Unlimited

Pages 160
Volumes 1
Size 6 1/8x9 1/4
Topics Adult Services and Programs/General
  Librarianship: Philosophy, Values, and Issues/General
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Whole Person Librarianship guides librarians through the practical process of facilitating connections among libraries, social workers, and social services; explains why those connections are important; and puts them in the context of a national movement.

Collaboration between libraries and social workers is an exploding trend that will continue to be relevant to the future of public and academic libraries. Whole Person Librarianship incorporates practical examples with insights from librarians and social workers. The result is a new vision of library services.

The authors provide multiple examples of how public and academic librarians are connecting their patrons with social services. They explore skills and techniques librarians can learn from social workers, such as how to set healthy boundaries and work with patrons experiencing homelessness; they also offer ideas for how librarians can self-educate on these topics.

The book additionally provides insights for social work partners on how they can benefit from working with librarians. While librarians and social workers share social justice motivations, their methods are complementary and yet still distinct—librarians do not have to become social workers. Librarian readers will come away with many practical ideas for collaboration as well as the ability to explain why collaboration with social workers is important for the future of librarianship.


  • Gain multiple examples of library-social work collaboration to apply in your own library
  • Learn to articulate reasons librarians benefit from collaboration with social workers and vice -versa
  • Know where to seek partnerships and how to start them
  • Develop a vision for how collaborations fit into the ideals of both professions and represents the future of librarianship
Author Info

Sara K. Zettervall, MLIS, MFA, is founding consultant and trainer at Whole Person Librarianship. She instructs library staff across the nation on applying social work concepts to improve library services and has led community-engaged projects in public, academic, and school libraries and archives. She is the 2017 winner of the Bogle Pratt International Travel Fund and a 2014 American Library Association Emerging Leader and has published on outreach and social justice in Public Libraries, VOYA, American Libraries, Library Youth Outreach, and Progressive Librarian.

Mary C. Nienow, PhD, is assistant professor of social work at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Dr. Nienow has over a decade of experience in research, teaching, advocacy, program coordination, policy development and analysis, and community organizing. She is cofounder of Grasstops, a nonprofit advocacy organization that assisted nonprofits and small community groups with their policy and advocacy goals. For this work she was awarded the NASW-MN 2006 Early Career Excellence Award. Dr. Nienow's research interests include professional socialization of macro-practice social workers, policy and program development, and community-based participatory research.

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