Across the country, more and more library systems are embracing their role as de facto matchmakers between social services and the people who need to access them by hiring social workers as staff. Sometimes, though, people who need to interact with these organizations don’t want to find out about them from traditional social workers, but from people who have dealt with them as users. That’s where the Denver Public Library (DPL) Peer Navigators come in.
Libraries across the country provide services to the homeless, but some go beyond standard outreach, throwing their doors open and welcoming those community members in. Among them are the Denver and San Francisco Public Libraries, where unique services aim to bring additional dignity and humanity to library programming for people experiencing homelessness. Both libraries have hired full-time social workers in recent years to help address the homelessness crises in their communities, and that commitment shows through in their creative partnerships and programming.
On March 2, Michelle Jeske stepped into her new role as Denver Public Library (DPL) city librarian. Physically, she did not have far to go: Jeske had already been working at DPL since 2001, most recently as the director of collections, technology, and innovation on the library’s executive team. Previously Jeske—a 2005 LJ Mover & Shaker—served as manager of DPL’s web information services and its community technology center. But while her new job will not involve any major changes of scenery, moving into the position vacated by Shirley Amore—who retired after serving as city librarian for nearly nine years—promises to give Jeske a panoramic view of Denver’s thriving and robust public library system, and the opportunity to bring about some exciting changes to the landscape.
The challenge of providing services to a changing community while operating more efficiently made the Denver Public Library’s (DPL) leaders realize they couldn’t afford to be all things to all people—at least not at every branch.
After zeroing in on each branch’s demographics and user patterns, librarians ascertained three different user groups and developed different strategies, such as refining the service delivery, and put them into play in 2005 and 2006. “It really is borrowed from marketing from the business world,” says Susan Kotarba, director of public services at DPL.