Friday, June 17, 2022

two people seated at a table engaged in conversation, in a library setting

Faculty in the University of Iowa School of Social Work and the School of Library and Information Science recently secured a $50,000 grant through the University of Iowa’s Jumpstarting Tomorrow Initiative for a project integrating social work into public libraries. The principal investigators on this project are UI School of Social Work Associate Professor Megan Gilster, MSW, Ph.D.; School of Library and Information Science Lecturer Kara Logsden, MA; and School of Social Work Clinical Assistant Professor Sarah Witry, MSW, LMSW, who also directs the UI’s social work field education program.

The “Social Workers in Eastern Iowa Public Libraries” project seeks to understand how social workers embedded in public libraries can improve community resilience and health. The first phase of the project is focused on data gathering, community needs assessment, and intervention planning. In the second phase, Social Work BA and MSW students will embed in eastern Iowa public libraries to deliver and evaluate interventions, designed around community needs identified in the first phase, to staff and community members.

Students will work with public libraries in five Eastern Iowa communities: Iowa City, Coralville, North Liberty, West Liberty, and Marengo. The project follows the standard processes of social work practice: engage and assess; intervene; and evaluate. This project will engage with and assess the libraries and surrounding communities; develop and implement intervention plans; and evaluate those interventions. Furthermore, to understand the benefits of this partnership, the team will use a pre-test/post-test design to examine outcomes for library staff and boards.

“We want to examine how libraries currently serve community needs, and how providing social work students can enhance libraries’ success in meeting community needs,” said principal investigator Gilster. “We expect to see increased library staff and board acceptance, satisfaction, and efficacy in meeting community needs—and we expect the interventions will increase patron utilization of libraries, especially among marginalized communities.”

Ultimately, the “Social Workers in Eastern Iowa Public Libraries” project seeks to identify best practices for social workers within libraries in general. More specifically, the project is anticipated to reveal future options for interdisciplinary research, scholarship, and educational collaborations between the School of Social Work and School of Library and Information Science at the University of Iowa.  

The grant for this project comes from a larger Jumpstarting Tomorrow Seed Grant-funded research project, “Public Libraries for Disaster Resilience: Assessing Libraries’ Community Impacts in Times of Climate and Socio-Economic Crises.”

The Jumpstarting Tomorrow Seed Grant is a hybrid pilot grant/community-building UI program that supports innovative and collaborative teams recognized as having potential to become the vanguard for future strategic research investments by the university. The initiative was made possible through $2 million in funding to the UI’s Research Development Office from the first round of disbursements related to the UI utility public-private partnership (P3).

Megan Gilster



Megan Gilster
Associate Professor, University of Iowa School of Social Work
(319) 335-1264