The library’s Social Services team ensures safety in the library and refers people to resources for mental health, housing, employment, health care, immigration, domestic violence, and more. They have a wide network of resources and can assist patrons seeking social services support. Please contact Rob Simmons, Director of Social Services and Public Safety, with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org or 708.697.6910
We are happy to meet or talk with library patrons about community resources or offer support as needed. We offer short-term case management to connect a patron to longer-term supports or stabilize a situation.
- Make referrals to community partners and help the patron create a service plan.
- Provide a range of resource lists or do some basic online searches for specific services.
- Make phone calls to resources with the patron if needed.
- Schedule mental health intakes and refer patrons to Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center.
- Consult and coordinate with case managers and other providers on behalf of patrons.
- Provide housing support and advocacy.
- Consult with staff about how to engage with patrons that might have mental health challenges.
- Library buildings serve as de facto warming centers only during open building hours.
The library partners with more than 30 organizations in the Chicago area who provide various types of comprehensive social services support. Examples of the referral-based support that the Social Services team offers include:
- Find housing: will refer patrons to the appropriate housing assistance agency that provides outreach and case management.
- Apply for social security benefits: will refer patrons to SSA offices or agencies/attorneys who assist with Social Security.
- Find employment: will refer patrons to the appropriate employment agency.
- Apply for the public benefits such as state health plans or other subsidized programs: will refer to the Illinois Department of Human Services, Social Security Administration, or appropriate agency.
- Tech help regarding the operations of computers such as setting up a new device: will refer to library staff to make a learning lab appointment at the library.
- Legal services such as legal advice: will refer to legal aid organizations.
- Tax filing or advice: will refer to the tax forms the library has available.
Since October 2019, the Social Services team has offered free mental health assessments and therapy through a partnership with Rush University Medical Center. When the COVID-10 pandemic emerged in spring 2020, Simmons worked with Rush clinicians to quickly pivot to offering virtual services to patrons. Community partners such as Oak Park Township Youth Services and New Moms have referred their clients to the clinic and have reported that their clients have benefitted from this resource, as mental health needs have sharply risen during the pandemic.
The library is in its fourth year working with Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine on a five-year grant in which an app is being built to help teens manage anxiety. Dr. Ashley A. Knapp of Northwestern has conducted interviews with teens and library staff, and adult and teen advisory boards have been created to share input throughout the process. In development , the app is expected to be available to Oak Park cardholders in 2024.
A collaboration of 50+ local organizations and individuals working to end homelessness in Oak Park, including representatives from local businesses, government, healthcare, faith-based groups, school districts, nonprofits, and service agencies. The group’s primary goal is to make homelessness brief, rare, and one-time in Oak Park. Director of Social Services Robert Simmons participates as a Core Member. Simmons also co-chairs the Career Pathways workgroup, which focuses on coordinating job readiness and job placement throughout the community. Adult Education and Career Services Librarian Rashmi Swain provides integral support to the Career Pathways workgroup as well.
Why have a social worker at a library?
In 2016, Oak Park and Robert Simmons joined just a handful of U.S. public libraries with similar social services-based positions, including Denver, San Francisco, and Washington, DC. Simmons has since developed a team to provide services for the most vulnerable patrons, including those experiencing challenges such as homelessness and access to mental health support.
The decision to hire a social worker was a direct result of the library’s intentional strategy of listening and responding to community aspirations. It was also part of rethinking how we engage with all patrons, “including those who are vulnerable, marginalized, or at-risk, who use our facilities on a daily basis, and for whom we should be providing services,” said former Executive Director David J. Seleb.
As part of this approach, the library replaced externally contracted security guards with dedicated library employees. So instead of a “monitor and remove” strategy, the library’s Public Safety Specialists are trained to take a trauma-informed care approach, engaging patrons with empathy to help connect them to community resources.
“Now, we can ask, ‘What’s going on with you?’ as opposed to ‘What’s wrong with you?’” Simmons said. “We’re prioritizing respect and dignity.”