Why Library Science and Social Work Need to Collaborate More

Service. Equity. Commitment to communities. These are themes found in both the American Library Association Code of Ethics and the National Association of Social Worker’s Code of Ethics. Indeed, librarians and social workers share many of the same clients, interest, and goals. The welfare of the clients they serve is of the highest importance to both as they battle for equality and are front runners of current social justice issues. These key points provide rationalization to the observation that the education of social workers and librarians is more similar than it is different. Yet, dual programs and crossover education is currently not a readily available option for students to take advantage of.

This year, at the age of 40, I made the choice to return to the university setting while working full-time as a child abuse and neglect investigation supervisor. Initially, I applied to the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Master of Social Work (MSW) program and was accepted. However, as I celebrated my acceptance to UMKC, I thought more about the experiences my husband was having in his Master of Library Science (MLS) program and how those experiences could apply to a Master of Social Work. So, I then decided to seek a Master of Library Science as well.

However, there was one major issue with this: UMKC does not offer a dual program and neither do any of the other programs in the Missouri system. I also looked into other programs around me and realized that there are no dual MLS-MSW programs in surrounding states, either. I was then left to either give up the dream of a dual MSW-MLS or to create my own program, which is what I chose to do. So, I applied to Emporia State University and was accepted to their Master of Library Science program.

Now, at this moment, I am sitting in a hotel room while my husband attends a conference for medical librarians, surrounded by textbooks, a choice read for my readers’ advisory class, binders full of social work articles, and a planner, trying to keep it all straight. I continuously toggle back and forth between two different student accounts on Canvas, checking that every assignment and project has been turned in and tracking which assignments and/or projects are coming due in the next week. This is just another Sunday night for me while I juggle two graduate programs at two different universities, one as a full-time student and the other as part-time, all while maintaining a full-time career.

I have loved (almost) every minute of this journey so far, but I am often left wondering why I am pursuing these two programs this way. In my research on dual programs, the combination of MLS and MSW programs exist, but are rare; which did not surprise me much given my previous research. However, the lack of crossover education has surprised me. In my current programs there are no advertised elective opportunities to promote this crossover learning. So, I am, again, left trying to find a path of my own.

While I appreciate the opportunity to really explore topics via electives in my MLS program, I do think it would be good for there to be more social work or human behavior education in library schools. With the constant shifting nature of the library and the roles that it plays in the community, the ability for librarians to have some basic education in mental health, social welfare, community systems theories, and human development along with social justice, systemic oppression, and other human diversity issues can only make the library a safer, better place.

Thomas Dean is an Investigation Supervisor of a Child Abuse and Neglect Unit during the day and at night dives into the world of graduate studies. He is a student in the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Master of Social Work program and Emporia State University’s Master of Library Science program. He is a husband, as well as the father of two delightful children.

Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

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