‘Beyond Books’ Discussion Explores Library-Based Social Work

Still image of this event's nine speakers arranged in a grid, taken from the recording.

On May 6, 2024, the McSilver Institute convened a virtual conversation with leading experts in library-based social work. Libraries are anchors in many communities, increasingly going beyond their traditional roles to serve the needs of neighborhoods in unique ways. This two-part conversation examined how libraries across the country and here in New York have brought social workers into their branches, how that policy trend has developed in different places, and what the future of social workers in libraries may look like.

NYU McSilver’s Director of Evaluation Ashley Fuss moderated two dynamic panels featuring eight speakers experienced in the field. A full recording of the 90-minute program is available below, as well as short bios for all participating speakers. Additional resources about library-based social work are also included on this page to provided an overview of the topic, including slides presented by Dr. Margaret Ann Paauw during the event.

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Video Recording

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Panelist Bios

Select a speaker to see their bio:

  • Jean Badalamenti, MSW

    Jean Badalamenti is DC Public Library’s Health and Human Services Manager, the first social worker hired by the public library system. Jean is part of the Service Design and Engagement office where she leads system-wide initiatives that address the health and human service needs of library customers and District residents. Since 2014 Jean has been developing programs, creating partnerships, and coordinating staff trainings focused on homelessness, library safety, and mental health.

    Jean launched a Peer Navigator Program in 2017 which connects customers without homes with library staff who have lived experience, and who provide emotional support and referrals to services in the community. Jean also manages DCPL’s library at the DC jail in partnership with the DC Department of Corrections. Jean was a founding member of the Public Library Association (PLA) Social Work Task Force, and served as its co-chair until 2020. She was a contributing advisor on the PLA publication A Trauma-Informed Framework for Supporting Patrons: The PLA Workbook of Best Practices. Jean holds a Masters’ Degree in Social Work from Howard University, and has worked in health and human services in DC for over 25 years.

  • Robyn Berger-Gaston, LCSW

    Robyn Berger-Gaston received her master’s degree in social work in 1991 from the New York State University at Stony Brook. She dedicated the first ten years of her career to the prevention and care of persons with HIV/AIDS. Ms. Gaston counseled the newly diagnosed, their families and developed several population specific prevention education models. In 2000, Robyn began at the Family Service League as a program director overseeing an array of youth and family centered services at the Riverhead Family Center.

    Now as an agency division director, Robyn oversees a wide array of programs including services for seniors, social emotional learning, crisis response and community-based counseling programs. She has developed new programs for Family Service League including the community action crisis team, suicide response team and several Family Place Libraries throughout Long Island. In her role as a crisis responder, Robyn has worked directly with families and communities impacted by suicide and trains other professions in this work. She has received extensive training from the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation and is an approved instructor for Group Crisis Intervention. Robyn is a past president of the Gerontology Professionals of Long Island and has served as an adjunct faculty at St. Joseph’s College, Human Services department.

  • Julianna Black

    Julie Black is a program specialist in the San José Public Library’s equity and inclusion services unit. She helps coordinate the Holistic Library Initiative, which includes a Social Work in the Library program. Originally from Georgia, Julie graduated from the University of Georgia with a Bachelor’s in Social Work in May of 2020. She is on track to graduate with a Master’s in Social Work – Advanced Standing from San José State University in May 2024. Julie is working on building out a more robust and sustainable initiative that focuses on enhancing the way SJPL engages with and supports people experiencing homelessness.
  • Ashley Fuss, LMSW, PhD

    Dr. Ashley Fuss is the Director of Evaluation at the McSilver Institute. In this role, she leads data and evaluation initiatives with community partners, evaluation efforts across the portfolio of McSilver’s Technical Assistance Centers in New York State, and data projects related to healthcare system transformation.

    Dr. Fuss has been working in the research, evaluation, and data analytics space for the last 10 years across various academic, public sector, and private sector settings. She has expertise in both quantitative and qualitative research methodologies and has significant experience working with organizations to design and implement evaluation and research protocols to determine program impact and effectiveness.

    She received her MSW degree from Fordham University with a concentration in research, and her PhD degree from University of Pennsylvania. Her dissertation work focused on behavioral health prevention for youth using machine learning techniques.

  • Elissa Hardy, LCSW, MSW, MELP

    Elissa Hardy has a background in social justice, advocacy, and supervision of case management programs in the fields of behavioral health and housing. Now focusing on climate and food justice, she works at Hunger Free Colorado and serves on the Mission Adaptation Advisory Council for the American Red Cross, supporting communities in climate change resilience and adaptation. She developed and managed the social work program at the Denver Public Library from 2015 to 2022. During this time, she worked with many library social work colleagues to develop training for library staff, create an understanding of the importance of third places, and supported work in the City of Denver to approach homelessness from an inclusive and just model.

    Elissa has been an adjunct instructor at the University of Denver’s Graduate School of Social Work for 12 years, and developed and teaches the Policy Considerations for Environmental Justice in the US course. Elissa holds a master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and a master’s degree in Environmental Law and Policy from Vermont Law School. She lives in Denver, Colorado with her two rescue pups, loves to travel, and spend time with nature and the important people in her life.

  • Peter Allen Lee, PhD, MSW

    Dr. Lee earned his MSW and PhD in social welfare from the University of California at Berkeley. His research and practice interests include the psychological development and adjustment of Asian Americans, and ethnic groups in the child welfare and mental health systems. Dr. Lee is currently the Director of the School of Social Work.

    He has taught in the MSW Program and is involved in research and community development activities. Dr. Lee is the co-creator of Social Workers in the Library (with SJPL Librarian Deborah Estreicher). He is also involved with The Salvation Army and other non-profit community organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area developing sports, family, and youth programs. Dr. Lee has also been involved in the partnership among the School, College of Health and Human Sciences, and SJSU with the Viet Nam National University in Ha Noi to create graduate-level curriculum instrumental towards developing the social work profession in Viet Nam.

    He has worked with CommUniverCity San Jose as the Associate Director, and Director of the SJSU “UP” Pre-College program (formerly Upward Bound). He is also a committee member for the California Social Work Hall of Distinction.

  • Peggy Morton, DSW, MSW

    Peggy Morton is a Clinical Associate Professor at the NYU Silver School of Social Work. Her professional interests include gerontology, experiential learning (field education, service learning), and library-based social work services. Her practice experience includes clinical work with children and adolescents, the elderly, and terminally ill patients and their families in both private and public (agency-based) settings.

    Dr. Morton has developed and taught Service-Learning courses to the wider University undergraduate community. She has had extensive experience as a field faculty member, field instructor, and faculty advisor in both the undergraduate and graduate social work programs and mentors DSW candidates. Currently, Dr. Morton serves as field instructor to interns placed in the NY Public Library system, a field placement that she created and continues to develop. She also served from 2013-2019 as the School’s Assistant Dean for Field Learning and Community Partnerships. She is a College Coach at Breakthrough NY and serves as an Advisory Board member at Partners for Campus-Community Engagement.

    She earned her MSW and DSW from Hunter College School of Social Work (CUNY), and her BA from the University of Colorado.

  • Margaret Ann Paauw, PhD, LCSW

    Dr. Margaret Ann Paauw is an assistant professor at Eastern Michigan University and licensed clinical social worker. Dr. Paauw has been practicing social work since 2012, working mainly with people experiencing homelessness/housing insecurity and serious mental illness. Dr. Paauw’s research background includes social work practice in libraries and multidisciplinary treatment for youth with first episode psychosis.
  • Leah Topek-Walker, LCSW-R

    Leah Topek-Walker has been working as a social worker for 19 years. Leah began working in a community-based mental health clinic, and was privileged to work with individuals living with HIV/ AIDS, people who were involved in the carceral and immigration systems, and people experiencing economic and social marginalization.

    She currently serves as faculty in the Stony Brook School of Social Welfare Practicum Department, and supervises the library social work program. The library social work program is committed to providing the community with micro and mezzo interventions to address equity and access to care, and to concurrently providing social work students with dynamic learning opportunities. Leah is dedicated to working on issues of liberation, social justice and creating systemic change that empowers communities. Leah is working on her doctorate in social work, and serves on the Long Island Legislative Committee for Our Unhoused Neighbors, Social Workers for Justice and Patchogue-Medford Friends of the Library.

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    Additional Resources

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    Photo of Ashley Fuss
    Ashley Fuss, LMSW, PhD
    Director of Evaluation