North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University students Mervin Brandy and Samira Foster are interning at public libraries in Guilford County to apply their education toward serving the community.
Brandy and Foster are in the Joint Master of Social Work Program (JMSW) between North Carolina A&T and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Brandy is stationed at Greensboro’s Central Library while Foster and UNCG student Paymon Kazemeini are assigned to the City of High Point Public Library.
“We perform clinical work in a nontraditional setting,” said Foster. “It’s about meeting people where they are.”
The three are part of a team that includes A&T students Celia Green, Krista McGuire, Langston Powell and Destiney Springs-Walker, who are with Guilford County Local Reentry Council, and Shamia Knight, who is at Triad Adult and Pediatric Medicine.
“We link a lot of individuals to community resources,” said Brandy. “We do what we can to help people navigate their space in that moment.”
The eight interns make up the first-year cohort of “Social Work and Social Workers in the Public Library: A Collaborative Effort of Two Universities, Two Departments, and Two Public Libraries.”
In November, the project was awarded a three-year $16,000 grant through the Community-Engaged Pathways and Partnerships (P2): A Collective Scholarship Fellows Program, hosted by the Institute for Community and Economic Engagement and the Office of Research and Engagement at UNCG.
Project team members are JMSW co-field directors Maruka Rivers and Alicia Kaplan; Greensboro Public Library director Brigitte Blanton and deputy director Brian Hart; High Point Public Library director Mary Sizemore and assistant director Lorrie Russell; UNCG Social Work Department chair Melissa Floyd-Pickard, Ph.D., and UNCG School of Education Library and Information Studies assistant professor Noah Lenstra, Ph.D.
Rivers, who leads the interns, said the project employs the Person-in-Environment perspective, combining clinical social work with elements of social justice. It is part of a growing national trend in public libraries whose mission is to prove free access to information to all members of society.
From a table set up at the front of their libraries, Brandy, Foster and Kazemeini each spend 16 hours a week meeting clients and guiding them to sources for immediate and long-term assistance such as shelters, soup kitchens and counseling services.
Another part of their role is to advocate for librarians and teach them techniques for mindfulness as well as how to approach patrons who are in crisis.
“We are a diverse team with different strengths, but we each take a personal approach to make those connections,” said Kazemeini.
Triad Adult and Pediatric Medicine, a Federally Qualified Health Care Center that provides care for patients regardless of their ability to pay, is a referral partner for the project.
“My role is engaging with library clients about those services and assisting with making initial appointments if needed,” said Knight.
For their part in the project, Green, McGuire, Powell and Springs-Walker regularly meet at the library with clients who are trying to adapt to life after incarceration.
“They’re willing to do what they need to do, but they don’t know how,” said McGuire. “We are there to provide the support they need to turn their lives around.”
Rivers said the project reflects JMSW’s core value of being responsive to the community’s needs.
“Libraries are places for stories,” said Rivers. “The goal for our students is to show our clients how to make a new story for themselves.”