Library provides virtual social worker

'I'm someone to talk to'

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By Maria Maxham

Raqueal Pullums started her internship at the Forest Park Public Library in January, a time when the COVID-19 pandemic wasn't on most people's radar. A graduate student in social work at Loyola University, Pullums is doing her first internship at the library, and since she began, the way she does her job has changed.

With the library temporarily closed due to the pandemic, she has switched to virtual rather than in-person assistance for individuals. But she's still working on research and resources for library staff and people in need.

Pullums describes her role as being a resource for people who need help with a variety of issues, from unemployment, to shelter and housing, to processing things they're struggling with.

Prior to the pandemic, part of her responsibility was compiling resources for library visitors and for staff, information on where to go for help for a variety of problems or issues.

"And I'm someone to talk to," said Pullums.

She also met with people in-person to provide assistance. Sometimes this included situations where the library security guard needed to address patrons who weren't abiding by library policies. Sometimes the patron would be asked to leave, but Pullum said she would often talk to that person too.

"If someone needed a place to shower or sleep or eat, I would talk to them before they left to offer suggestions and share resources," said Pullums, who added that she would often put people in touch with mental health facilities or substance abuse programs. 

"The library's right off the Blue Line," said Pullums, "and we had lots of homeless people stopping by the library. Being able to offer them a list of shelters or other resources is a great way to help."

Other job responsibilities for Pullums included helping staff with goal setting as well as providing them with resources to guide their interactions with different populations at the library.

Now, she does her work for the library remotely from at home. Pullums still compiles resources for library patrons and staff. But the resources she focuses on are changing a little.

"There are a lot more people out of work now," said Pullums, who is compiling unemployment resources and finding information on companies that are currently hiring.

Pullums is also identifying resources to help people cope with stress and anxiety, which is increasing during these uncertain times.

And she has begun providing one-on-one social work remotely.

"People are feeling overwhelmed working from home, or dealing with the future, which is so unpredictable," said Pullums. "People are feeling like life is completely different from what they thought it would be."

And Pullums is available to talk to them. Topics might include employment, substance abuse and mental health, but she's available for those who are simply feeling stressed and overwhelmed.

"What people are thinking and feeling are valid," said Pullums. "And even though people feel alone, I want them to know they're not really alone."

Pullums' internship at the library will end in August, and she's uncertain at this point where her next internship will take her. But she knows that she wants to ultimately work with at-risk populations and organizations helping them.

"I want to help them live their best life," said Pullums.

For more information on the Forest Park Public Library's virtual social work, visit fppl.org/2020/04/01/virtualsocialwork/ or email socialworkintern@fppl.org.

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