Ashley Cedeño is now serving as the Racine Public Library’s first permanent and full-time social worker. She is a recent graduate of UW-Milwaukee’s social work program. Social workers are relatively new to libraries.
The Racine Public Library has observed a shift in community member needs for the past serval years. Requests for services around homelessness, addiction, mental illness, domestic violence and other issues have arisen.
The library knew that because of their increasing involvement, they needed to consider additional ways to serve the communities needs. In 2019, the reference staff took a six-week course to address social services in libraries across the country. It invited leaders from local organizations to discuss how best to serve Racine.
The conclusion was clear: The library needed a social worker to assess patrons’ needs and connect them with services.
In late 2019, the Racine Public Library responded by piloting a temporary, part-time intern social worker position. The position’s impact was immediately noticeable. The social worker was able to support the community.
Additionally, the library partnered with Carthage College. Interns from the college’s social work department provided social services until the library could hire its social worker for 2021.
While 185 libraries throughout the U.S. host social workers in some form, according to a map by Whole Person Librarianship, these tend to be part-time staff, interns or partners through outside agencies. The Racine Public Library is in the one-fifth of U.S. libraries that employ a full-time social worker of their own.
“The Racine Public Library is the community’s hub for information, resources, education and access, all of which have a core purpose of addressing human needs,” says Angela Zimmermann, executive director of the Racine Public Library. “With the critical role social workers serve in supporting people and families to improve their lives, it was a natural fit for the library to build this role into our work. Ashley will be instrumental in building bridges to the resources our community members need.”
Cedeño is a first-generation college graduate who came to Wisconsin in 2015 to pursue her education. She earned her bachelor’s in social work from Carthage College in 2019. Then in August of 2021, she earned her master’s in social work from UW-Milwaukee.
Cedeño is bilingual in both Spanish and English. The new social worker is passionate about diversity and has previously worked with organizations like the Job Center of Kenosha, the Kenosha Area Family & Aging Center, the ELCA Outreach Center, the Dewey Center and the Aurora Psychiatry Hospital.
She is eager to put these skills and experiences to work in the library to help it serve a wider segment of the community.
She says, “I have a very strengths-based, person-centered approach to social work, and I want to use this lens to create an inclusive, brave space for people to feel welcome and supported at the Racine Public Library,” says Cedeño. “It is such a privilege to be a part of the library’s team, build and fulfill the vision for this role, and bring resources and opportunities to the community.”
Community members seeking resources, advice, referrals or even just a friendly person to talk to can find Cedeño during her office hours in the library’s second-floor study rooms. She’s available for drop-ins Wednesdays 4 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and Thursdays 9 p.m. to 1 p.m. Virtual, phone and in-person appointments with her are also available Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Wednesdays from 12:30 to 7:30 p.m. To book an appointment, call or text 262.321.9458, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.