I am probably biased as a (very!) regular user of the Denver Public Library (DPL), but I think that they do an amazing job connecting with users. A recent article in Library Journal highlights DPL’s use of Peer Navigators, a new program designed to help users navigate the complicated “social safety net.” As one of the first public libraries to hire full-time social workers, DPL is clearly committed to helping its patrons find more than just books and entertainment. What is so genius about peer navigators is that this program recognizes that for many people, it’s easier to seek help from someone who has been through the process, rather than someone in a position of authority. DPL’s spokesperson explains: “[t]he peers will meet with library customers to help them navigate the social service system in Denver and also lead peer discussion groups to increase support to vulnerable populations, such as customers experiencing homelessness.”
Denver is similar to many cities, we have a substantial homeless population and the public library acts as a safe haven for them (as it does for many marginalized populations). Not only is this program mutually beneficial, the peer navigators share their experience and potentially help an individual receive the assistance they need, it also strengthens community relationships. Non-profits, government agencies, and healthcare facilities have agreed to partner with the library’s social work team to assist users. According to the article, a Department of Justice grant is funding the program through the end of 2017.
More information about the program can be found on the library’s website and information about similar “model programs” for reducing homelessness has been compiled on the ALA website. Hopefully, the program is successful and will continue to expand, as Denver continues to grow. Stay tuned!