Apr. 12—You've heard of going to a library to borrow books, but what about to ask a social worker for help with a problem?
The library system in Jackson County is part of a growing national trend to embed social workers in libraries.
Jackson County Library Services hired social worker Mehmood Madha in late December 2020, and he's already making a difference. He's helped people who are searching for jobs, food, housing, volunteer opportunities, mental health care, addiction treatment, new hobbies, social connections and much more.
"One time I had a patron ask, 'What does a social worker do?' And my response was simply, 'What do you need help with?'" said Madha, who received his master's degree in social work from the Columbia School of Social Work in New York.
He's available to help kids, teens and adults.
Madha doesn't do the job alone. He's made connections with local social service providers and other organizations so he can refer people to the right place for their particular needs.
Madha serves as a bridge to connect people who come to the library needing help but who don't know where to go, said Claudine Taillac, assistant director of public services at JCLS.
"He's really enriched our services so far. He's helped so many patrons," she said.
In addition to helping library visitors, Madha is training and mentoring library staff members on de-escalation techniques. Librarians regularly see a broad cross section of people from all walks of life.
"Our frontline library staff work with vulnerable populations every day," Taillac said. "We take pride in our role as public servants and as trusted sources of help and information. Adding a social worker to the library setting completes the circle of the library's role in the community as an institution people can turn to for assistance."
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the libraries aren't offering in-person browsing. But people can order books and pick them up at their local library branches. The library system is providing computer time, online homework help and wireless Internet access for students, workers and others who may lack computer access at home.
Madha is available for direct client services and referrals by appointment at 541-774-6749, or on a drop-in basis at the Medford library, 205 S. Central Ave., from 1-4 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and at the Ashland library, 410 Siskiyou Blvd., from 1-4 p.m. Thursdays.
Madha said most people are comfortable and familiar with libraries, which makes it easier for them to ask him for help.
With Jackson County dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and the aftermath of 2020 fires, Madha said the library system is stepping up to serve the community at a time of unprecedented need.
"This space is a zero-barrier space for individuals to approach. That means people generally feel safe and welcome here. One of the tenets of social work is meeting people where they are, and people definitely come to the library and view it as a safe space," he said. "So it is an ideal location for a social worker to be placed."
For information on current library hours and services at Jackson County Library Service's 15 branches, visit jcls.org.
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.