A new social work intern has joined the Forest Park Public Library. Lizzy Marks is from the Loyola University School of Social Work, where she’s working on her master’s degree. While interning at the library she’s available to help the public with basic needs assessment, resource referral, or friendly conversation. She will also be a resource to the staff.

Marks’ background and undergraduate degree is in elementary education. She taught in preschool for two years, and she owned her own business for a while, teaching early childhood and sensory developmental classes.

Through those experiences, she realized her calling was to do social work, so she decided to pursue a master’s degree in the field.

When it came to an internship, she said she’d never heard of doing one in a library. But after taking classes and talking to different social workers, it makes a lot of sense to her.

“I said, ‘Of course there should be social workers in libraries,'” Marks said. “This is where a lot of vulnerable and marginalized populations use the facility on a daily basis. We should be providing these people services because they’re here, and especially in a library we can give them access to other resources that can help them.”

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, social workers at the library worked in person with patrons and those who needed assistance; now, meetings are mostly virtual.

Marks said it’s slightly disappointing not to be able to see the library as it typically is and how it usually runs, without COVID-19 restrictions in place. But COVID affects the way she interacts with people not just physically, but emotionally too.

“There’s a lot of anxiety and stress right now,” said Marks. “It’s important to help the staff navigate the current climate and help the community as much as possible. Mental health awareness and understanding the importance of checking in with yourself is essential. That’s what I hope to be able to bring to the library.”

The stress of COVID, said Marks, is taking a toll on everyone, even when we’re not aware of it.

“There’s so much to be said for just being aware of where you’re at, and what you’re feeling. And, you know, I think all of our feelings and reactions to what’s going on in the world are valid, but it can be a lot. I think that it takes a certain awareness to be able to say, ‘Hey, this isn’t good for me, I need to figure out a way to cope’,” said Marks.

Marks stressed the importance of self-care in times of uncertainty and anxiety. A lot of people, she said, don’t make time for it.

One of her goals at the library is to put out reminders to staff through regular emails and signs around the building reminding people to check in with themselves.

“I think that giving people permission to know that what they’re feeling is okay is important, and reminding them that probably most people are feeling the same way is a huge part of mental health awareness, because it can be isolating to be feeling anxious and uncertain,” said Marks.

For now, Marks said she’s sitting at the front of the library, helping with general services, but she plans to start conversations, wants to help people find resources they need.

She’s open to Zoom sessions with people, or outdoor meetings in person if the weather is nice. She’s reached out to the local elementary schools to let them know she’s available and in hopes of starting a collaboration with them. She’s putting together lists of resources and books that could help people.

“I’ve got a lot of ideas. It’s a work in progress right now,” Marks said.

For Marks, the heart of everything is relationships. Relationships with the community, between staff members, with your family.

“It’s something that we forget to put a lot of energy into, and we forget how important and how hard it is to have a good relationship,” Marks said. “That’s the underlying core of social work, the personal relationships that we have to navigate through, and how to do that while being true to yourself. How to have your own boundaries, but also find ways to communicate with those around you.”

If you’re interested in talking with Marks, email socialworkintern@fppl.org to set up a Zoom session.