By Will Peebles
Live Oak Public Libraries (LOPL) aspires to be a haven to its local community, and it is through the pursuit of this goal that the social services program was created.
With the hiring of Regional Social Services Coordinator Savanna Waddle in October 2022, LOPL patrons in Chatham, Effingham, and Liberty counties gained a point of contact to use in their times of need. Waddle is the first licensed master social worker hired by Live Oak Public Libraries, and since then, she has assisted in spearheading multiple community initiatives on behalf of the library system.
Recently, the library system expanded its social services offerings to include a Care Closet, which offers donated items to the local community. The closet is stocked with clothing, sleeping bags, blankets, shoes, kids’ toys, strollers, menstrual products, hygiene items, and medical supplies.
Many of the patrons Live Oak Public Libraries assist are without housing, and Waddle says the unhoused community in LOPL’s service area is a network in and of itself. It didn’t take long for word to get around about the library’s Care Closet.
“Sometimes the Care Closet is a good lead in for building relationships with patrons. Or sometimes the patrons start to slowly build trust with me, through seeing me routinely, talking to me, or when they’re looking for items. After I built a relationship with a few core patrons, they started telling other people about the library’s resources,” Waddle said.
Besides word of mouth, most social services-based referrals come from library staff. Many staff members within the system have already built trust and rapport with the people who are asking for the kind of help the social services department can provide, and that trust can go a long way.
“It’s no secret community members turn to public library workers for information on social services and programs,” Executive Director Lola Shelton-Council said. “LOPL recognized a need to provide more of a warm handoff instead of just a brochure with a list of various service providers. We wanted to reduce the number of times an individual had to tell their story to get assistance and be treated with dignity.”
When the library’s social services are referred from a trusted source, it’s easier to make the “warm handoff,” to our community partners capable of meeting the patron’s specific needs. As the community comes to know the library as a trusted partner, it’s getting easier to build relationships which, in turn, increase access to patrons seeking assistance.
And there’s no shortage of face-to-face interaction. Much of Waddle’s daily workload is helping library patrons navigate the resources available to them — everything from filling out food stamp applications, to accessing birth certificates, to completing housing applications. It’s a broad spectrum of services, but it dovetails into one of the most critical aspects of the library: accessibility.
“There’s an entire range of social services people need, at any point of life that they’re in. I think what’s really interesting about working for the library, and one of my favorite things, is that it’s one of the last free resources out there,” Waddle said. “And a lot of people that come in are looking for access to resources.”
To learn more about Live Oak Public Libraries, go to https://liveoakpl.org/home.