Public Library Services

Photo courtesy of the DC Public LibraryDespite the wide range of social and legal services available in American cities, it’s not always easy for a person to find the right service provider (or, often, set of providers) who can help. Service providers, from lawyers to social workers to case managers, have deep expertise helping people solve problems, but sometimes it may not be obvious that someone should, say, call a lawyer in addition to a food pantry if they receive a letter that food stamp benefits have been cut off. A single story may require the help of multiple experts, and multiple services, in order to meet a person’s need.

Particularly for those on the wrong side of the digital divide, people often turn to the library for information on where to find help. The DC Public Library (DCPL) is working to better meet this need, by improving how it provides recommendations and resources on social services in the city, and equipping librarians with question-and-answer tools that can help draw out other services that a person might need. We’re excited to announce that—with support from the Knight Foundation’s Prototype Fund and Open Referral Initiative—SIMLab is partnering with DCPL to help.

This project is, in some ways, new territory for us as well—it’s one of our first hands-on projects in the United States—and so, in close collaboration with the Library, we’ve been working hard over the past weeks to get a sense of the world we’re working in. We’ve interviewed front-line librarians to better understand the types of services people seek at the library, and the stories people tell when they do so. For this prototype, we wanted to narrow our focus to a subset of services, so we could explore more deeply within that subset and test our hypotheses and assumptions on a smaller scale. We’ve chosen to focus on on services for the elderly, a commonly requested service set at the library. The difficulty of finding elderly services is a microcosm of finding services generally: after all, most everyone gets old eventually, and many people are navigating the system for the first time, often in search of help for an aging parent, family member, or partner.

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It's Interesting

  • A public library is a library that is accessible by the public and is generally funded from public sources (such as tax money) and operated by civil servants. There are five fundamental characteristics shared by public libraries. The first is that they are supported by taxes (usually local, though any level of government can and may...
  • Nunavut Public Library Services (NPLS) is the public library system serving the citizens of the Canadian territory of Nunavut. The libraries which comprise Nunavut Public Library Services exist in three communities: Qikiqtani, Kivalliq, and Kitikmeot.
    The libraries which comprise the Nunavut Public Library Services offer traditional print...

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