QC area public library becomes first in Iowa to have a social worker on staff

Local News

Quinn O’Brian, a licensed social worker with the Davenport Public Library system, is the first such staff member at a library in the QC and state of Iowa.

In a first-floor office near the elevator of the Davenport Public Library, 321 Main St., Quinn O’Brian is quietly making history.

She is the first licensed social worker on staff of a Quad Cities library, and the first one in Iowa. Since she started in October, patrons can receive free, personalized attention and assistance with their social service needs. A few of the ways the Library Social Worker can help you is by making referrals and connecting you to community resources and organizations that can address your specific need. In addition, your Library Social Worker will provide support and advocate on your behalf. 

O’Brian, a licensed social worker since 2011, previously worked for Genesis Health System in Davenport two years. She moved to the QC about three years ago from Missouri.

“Libraries do need a social worker, since many of the questions can’t be answered,” O’Brian said recently. “Some questions you can’t find in books and librarians aren’t trained for that.”

It helps the public to have a point of contact in the library, as opposed to looking to connect with social services or other agencies directly for assistance.

The outside of the Davenport Public Library at 321 Main St. (photo by Jonathan Turner)

“Having somebody as a point of reference on staff for everything, so you don’t need to leave and go somewhere else to find out,” O’Brian said. “You can have everything here.”

She has gotten a lot of questions about affordable housing, shelters, food stamps, rental assistance, unemployment benefits, tutoring, substance abuse treatment and job searches.

“It is just a variety of things. People don’t usually have access to a social worker they can ask whatever,” O’Brian said. In December, she had many questions about divorces, for some reason.

It helps for people to go online and make an appointment beforehand, so she knows what the issue is that someone needs help with. O’Brian must be knowledgeable about the resources available in the area, and where to point people.

“Working with Genesis hospital was an advantage, because of being there and dealing with people with different needs,” she said. “In the Quad Cities, we do have a lot of different resources. People are my greatest asset, because I know people in the community. This is not a big community; we all walk together. Because I know people in the community, it’s easier for me to pick up my phone.”

There also is a community service meeting, with a network of area agencies that connects monthly on Zoom and there’s an e-mail list of resources O’Brian has. “It is a great resource,” she said.

She often helps library patrons fill out applications and find information in the library.

Since 2011, O’Brian has worked in a variety of settings with diverse client populations, with the single focus of helping individuals and communities navigate through available social services resources to achieve positive outcomes. 

She earned a master’s in social work from Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville, and is a member of Phi Kappa Phi.

The Davenport Public Library has a downtown branch, and other locations on Fairmount Street and Eastern Avenue.

“I identify and engage with individuals who may benefit from social service resources,” O’Brian said. “I provide information, support, and make referrals to appropriate organizations. Patrons can make appointments to see me, call, email, Zoom and/or walk in. We even receive request for assistance through the mail. On a day-to-day basis, I make hourly rounds around my library to see if there are any patrons that need my services or identify problem behaviors that need addressing before they escalate.

“My job is a resource person,” she said. “I link people to appropriate resources that meet their particular need by making referrals, advocating on their behalf, making medical appointments, assisting with applications for government benefits, housing, shelter, food, employment. I do not provide case management services. In situations where a patron might need more in-depth follow up or assistance, I link them to case management services in the community.

“I also prepare and implement library programming for all ages and diverse backgrounds based on the social service needs of the community,” O’Brian said. “In this role, I can partner with other community organizations to offer programming to patrons and library staff or just offer programs based on patrons needs. Right now, I am running a program called Warm up Wednesday, where I serve coffee and hot cocoa to patrons and chat with them about Library services, programs and events.”

She offers consultation, training, and resources to library staff as needed, regarding issues related to social service needs of patrons. Staff direct patrons to her whenever it is something social services-related that they cannot effectively assist with.

O’Brian also provides them with brochures/leaflets or resources most commonly needed by patrons. She has an upcoming training with staff on how to manage crisis situations.

From San Francisco to Davenport

In 2009, the San Francisco Public Library became the first in the nation to hire a full-time social worker, Leah Esguerra. They directed her to serve three kinds of clients, “patrons, the community, and library staff.” She described libraries with social workers as a “community living room.”

For years, libraries have been a place people turn to for information to help them solve problems. But the challenges patrons are dealing with are increasingly beyond the scope of what most librarians are trained to handle — and that’s where social workers can fill the gaps, according to a recent NPR story on the national trend.

“Librarians are not social workers, you know?” O’Brian said. The pandemic has just magnified people’s existing needs.

“A lot of my patrons just want to vent, to talk, just to have somebody sit and listen,” she said. “It’s huge. I would say he pandemic made things harder, because people need resources. It’s very busy.”

“My goal is to inspire and empower anyone with social services needs by linking and connecting them to resources that address their particular needs,” she said. “I believe that change is possible when people are given the appropriate support to draw on their strengths to realize what is attainable.”

Amy Groskopf is director of the Davenport Public Library.

“I just see it as an extension of what we’ve always done,” DPL director Amy Groskopf said. “Our staff has always responded to lots of inquiries from residents, about how do I get assistance, how do I apply for this? Where can I find this resource?”

“Mostly it was, here’s this list or organizations you can call,” she said of the past responses. “Then it was on the patron to do that. That’s not the best help we could give. Sometimes people looking for that assistance are overwhelmed anyhow – that’s why they’re looking for the assistance, right?

“We felt it was a really good extension, so Quinn can work with folks and help them fill out the information,” Groskopf said. “She can make referrals, like through the Open Network hub.”

That’s the group of social service organizations in the QC, she noted. “Quinn can get directly refer somebody who might need help with whatever that thing might be, and that agency get the referral through the hub, and can contact that person directly,” the library director said.

The DPL has seen more needs, especially with the bitterly cold weather, including homelessness and housing insecurity, Groskopf said. “We’ve seen more people looking for assistance, especially since the weather turned bad. And I think a lot of folks are new in that situation, and they just really don’t know what to do.”

The social service organizations know about the new position, she noted. Other libraries in the area are interested in being part of the Open Network hub.

To schedule an appointment with O’Brian, call 563-888-3371 or click HERE.

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