News & Announcements

A library lifeline

April 5, 2024

Story by Ryan Gauthier

A man in a blue polo shirt stands between library shelves
Tyler Davis, a Master of Social Work student at the University of Missouri, became the first full-time social worker for the Daniel Boone Regional Library this year. Davis intends to graduate with his MSW degree in May. Photos by Andy Ramirez

To many people, a library is a refuge. It offers shelter from the elements, a wealth of news and information, and access to electricity and running water. Above all, it’s a safe place to spend some time without any other expectations.

Thanks to University of Missouri student Tyler Davis — and a new position within the Daniel Boone Regional Library (DBRL) — patrons are now able to connect with resources beyond the physical walls of the library.

Davis, a native of Jefferson City, Missouri, started this January as the first community resource specialist for the DBRL. The graduate student is balancing the demands of a full-time job while preparing to complete his Master of Social Work in May, but he appreciates that challenge. As he begins his career and winds down his studies, Davis appreciates the mentorship he’s able to receive from Mizzou faculty members.

“The library has given me so many hands-on opportunities working directly with patrons who needed community resources,” Davis said. “I also appreciate the incredible supervision I’ve received from mentors in the Mizzou School of Social Work.”

Proof of concept

Tyler Davis (left) speaks with a library patron who needs assistance. In his role with the library, Davis focuses on helping people connect to a variety of community resources.

Public libraries in larger cities like Denver, Seattle and Portland have employed social workers since the mid-2000s, but the concept didn’t make its way to mid-Missouri until recently.

Last year, DBRL decided to test the demand for a full-time social worker within its system. Library leadership reached out to the College of Health Sciences to see about creating a practicum role for a social work student at the library. Davis was selected for the position, and the experiment quickly revealed a strong demand for a social worker within the library.

“Tyler has been amazing,” said Erin Magner, associate director of DBRL. “He has given our community members a lot of resources and tools to create positivity and connections. He’s also given our staff and our employees a lot of tools and confidence to meet those challenges with their heads held high, knowing that they’re going to get the support that they need to help walk patrons through some of their more sensitive issues and questions.”

Magner said DBRL leadership liked the idea of having an in-house social worker rather than contracting out the role. The notion was to see whether the role could help make the library a central hub where people knew they could come and get connected with various social services.

“There are a lot of folks who are less likely to go to a public assistance office, but they feel safe coming here to the library,” Davis said. “It’s really special that I get to make those connections and interact with folks who wouldn’t otherwise access the services that social work can bring to a library.”

For instance, Davis worked with one patron who was chronically unhoused and had no connections to housing resources. While this patron might have wanted to change his situation, Davis said the man saw no path forward that would get him into reliable housing. This gentleman also had chronic health conditions that were exacerbated by living on the streets.

“Through support that I was able to provide him and by getting him connected with other agencies in town, he was able to find a place to live,” Davis said. “Being able to help people build that support network from the ground up and empowering them to know that there is a path forward to them getting the things that they need is really, really special.”

Beyond the stacks

In addition to building relationships with community agencies and the patrons of the DBRL system, Davis serves as a resource for staff members who interact with community members day in and day out. He said his experiences in the School of Social Work have prepared him well for both sides of his current role.

“My time at Mizzou has been very helpful, particularly in learning the fundamental skills of social work, and also in all of the community connections that I’ve been able to make,” he said.

Davis credits the mentorship of faculty members at Mizzou like Rachel Bailey-Wood, an assistant clinical professor of social work, and Tiffany Bowman, an assistant teaching professor of social work who helps students plan their practicum placements.

“They’ve helped form my philosophy and perspective as it pertains to guiding people through challenging times in their life,” he said. “They’ve also helped me navigate some of the ethical challenges that are involved with working so intimately with people.”

Working in the library —during his practicum and as he completes his studies — has been incredibly beneficial for Davis. While he has always been interested in aiding vulnerable populations, he hadn’t previously considered working in a public library.

“I’ve known all my life that I wanted to help people — I just wasn’t sure in what way I wanted to help people or how I was going to accomplish that,” he said. “This has been a great path for me.”

Connecting with a social worker

While a more formal system for booking appointments with Tyler Davis might come later, DBRL patrons can get time with him simply by asking a library employee if they can meet with the social worker or community resource specialist. Rather than create unnecessary barriers to access, Davis is available as needed to meet with community members who need assistance.