Wilder Social Worker Serves Patrons in Saint Paul Libraries
“I’m Helping People Where They Are"
A Saint Paul Public Library branch proved the perfect spot for a teen who was experiencing homelessness and had left school. He found a safe place and the support he needed—Wilder social worker Ruby Rivera, who was onsite and ready to help pursue his goal of returning to school.
Rivera works in four Saint Paul Public Libraries through a new project to help the library system be more responsive to the needs of library staff and patrons, particularly those who are experiencing needs that the library may not be equipped to handle. Rivera connected the teen to the recruiter at a different high school. Because a social worker was required for enrollment, the next day Rivera accompanied the teen to a meeting that allowed him to return to school.
Connections like this are the goal of placing a social worker in the Saint Paul Public Library system. The city’s libraries have a wealth of information and helpful staff, but an increasing number of library patrons who are experiencing a crisis or the effects of trauma may need more help than librarians can provide. When library users engage in disruptive behaviors or have unmet needs for mental health and social services, Rivera can serve as a starting point.
“You never know who you’re going to help, or how, or when,” Rivera says.
A Collaboration for the Community
Though Rivera’s position is new, bringing services into the community has long been a core part of Wilder’s approach to mental health services. In addition to outpatient therapy at Wilder’s mental health clinic, clients also receive services in home, school and community settings.
“We support individuals and families wherever and however we can to encourage healing and wellness,” says Dr. Pahoua Yang, vice president of Wilder Community Mental Health and Wellness. “Often this commitment means that we meet with people in a place where they are comfortable and able to receive services.”
The Saint Paul Public Library focuses on meeting the individual needs of each person, says Katrina Hartz Taylor, the library system’s public services manager. To support the increased needs of its users, the library pursued grant funding to help it become more sensitive to patrons experiencing the effects of trauma. It contracted with Wilder to provide a social worker at four libraries: Arlington Hills, Rondo, Rice Street and Sun Ray.
For Wilder, collaborating with the Saint Paul Public Library is an opportunity to not only support individual library patrons, but to join together to benefit the library system and entire
communities, Yang says.
In addition to Rivera’s work with library patrons, she also consults with staff about trauma and burnout, and assists with diffusing challenging situations at the library. Library staff have also taken part in formal trainings on trauma. “What we’ve been finding is that we have a lot of work to do with all of this,” Taylor says. “We’re just getting started.”
Open Hours at the Library
Rivera spends one day a week at each library. In the afternoons, she is available for anyone who needs help. Some people work with Rivera after seeing flyers. In other cases, library staff recommend that patrons speak to Rivera, or she may observe people who could benefit from her services.
On a given day, Rivera may help people find food assistance or shelter for the night. She often helps with applications, paperwork and assists people with intake processes at other social service agencies. She refers people to mental health services, and occasionally lends her ear to someone who just needs someone to listen.
“I’m helping people where they are, figuratively and literally,” Rivera says.
“You never know who you’re going to help, or how, or when.”