Whole Person Librarianship
A Social Work Approach to Patron Services
by Sara K. Zettervall and Mary C. Nienow
August 2019, 175pp, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
1 volume, Libraries Unlimited

Paperback: 978-1-4408-5776-8
$60, £47, 53€, A83
Please contact your preferred distributor for pricing.
eBook Available: 978-1-4408-5777-5
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Highlights the connections rapidly being made between librarians and social workers and explains how to create those partnerships.

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 represent the future of librarianship
Sara K. Zettervall, MLIS, MFA, is founding consultant and trainer at Whole Person Librarianship. She instructs library staff across the nation and world 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, 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 and BSW program director at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, MN. She has over a decade of experience in research, teaching, advocacy, program coordination, policy development and analysis, and community organizing. Nienow 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. Nienow's research interests include professional socialization of macro-practice social workers, policy and program development, and community-based participatory research.


"Whole Person Librarianship is a relevant, skillfully crafted, refreshingly optimistic, and highly recommended read."—Booklist Online, January 10, 2020

"A valuable guide for teaching students how to integrate social work approaches as emerging public or academic library professionals."—Journal of Education for Library and Information Science, January 27, 2021

“This book is the first of its kind to document and explore the vast possibilities of library-social work collaborations. Zettervall and Nienow have written an invaluable guide to bringing library staff and social workers together for the good of communities.” —Catherine Penkert, MSW, MPP, Library Director, Saint Paul Public Library

"Sara K. Zettervall and Dr. Mary C. Nienow, MSW, provide us with the tools we need to develop empathic practices, form partnerships, and bring social workers and social work expertise into libraries of all types. Whole Person Librarianship contains the practical information we need to make our libraries even more supportive community hubs. The book will impact front-line library staff, library administrators, library educators, and social work students and social workers. Throughout the book, stories of actual librarians and social workers powerfully illustrate the concepts discussed. The book concludes with inspiring chapters on how to sustain and advocate for whole person librarianship and, therefore, how to advocate for our patrons and communities. Zettervall and Nienow have distilled their expertise on this topic into a book accessible and useful for library staff, library educators, and social workers."—Noah Lenstra, Assistant Professor of Library and Information Studies, University of North Carolina at Greensboro

"After endorsing Zettervall and Nienow’s work for years, I’m thrilled at the publication of this definitive, authoritative manuscript on the collaboration between public libraries and social work. As leading experts in such partnerships, their work is timely and much needed. I will continue to refer to their wisdom in my own work, as well as recommending Whole Person Librarianship to the pioneering social workers, interns, and librarians among us."—Sarah C. Johnson, MLIS, LMSW, Hunter College, City University of New York (CUNY)

"While aiming to educate librarians about social work as a complement to public service in and through libraries, Whole Person Librarianship: A Social Work Approach to Patron Services is certainly important to social workers who are seeking new community partners and career pathways, as well as to social work educators who are seeking exciting internships and learning opportunities for their students. Libraries are emerging as the new community centers and settlement houses of today—centers for lifelong learning and civic engagement. Social workers who read this book will want to spend more time at their public library—and for good reasons."—Tracy M. Soska, Associate Professor, COSA Chair, and Continuing Education Director, University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work

"Whole Person Librarianship highlights the strengths of social work and librarianship, demonstrating how these approaches can be used in tandem to produce effective results in addressing needs of the most vulnerable library patrons. This book shows how patron services can be improved with the collaboration of the two disciplines' distinct yet similar roles and purpose, and it shines a light on several intersectionalities within both fields, such as access to resources and the promotion of social justice. In short, this book is recommended as a well-researched guide for libraries considering implementation of social services into their systems."—Leah Esguerra, LMFT, California Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, First Full-Time US Library Social Worker

"Whole Person Librarianship is a critical, vital text for anyone who is concerned about library practice in the 21st century. This book provides us great information that centers our service work within our communities and teaches us how we can reinvigorate and strengthen the role of librarians and libraries in the lives and social networks of our patrons. Librarianship and social work as professions have a lot to learn from each other."—Melissa I. Cardenas-Dow, Social Sciences Librarian, Sacramento State University; Co-chair, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Implementation Working Group, American Library Association

"Regardless of where libraries aim to settle in the continuum of social work collaborations, this important book responds to the plea from library staff for practical and applicable methods which enable whole person service with minimal burnout. These social work concepts inform sustainable solutions relevant to every library type and community size."—Jennifer Peterson, WebJunction Community Manager, OCLC
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