It was while she was working as a reference librarian at the Monmouth County Library Headquarters in Manalapan, NJ, that SC&I Master of Information (MI) alumna Kaitlin Montague ’16 first realized how incredibly valuable libraries have become as sources of social service, legal and health information for patrons. “I was being asked where to receive physical therapy, locations of homeless shelters, information about tax forms, restraining orders, and other legal documents, and the work of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)” says Montague. “I realized I felt unprepared to field many of these complex questions and wondered if other librarians were facing a similar issue.”
While working as a reference librarian, Montague, along with another SC&I alumna, Stacy Brody MI ’18, who was experiencing a similar trend in patron questions, decided to address the situation by writing an article for the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), New Jersey chapter’s newsletter, about their experiences. Their co-authored article, “A Note from the Librarian’s Desk,” discusses the overlap of responsibility between social workers and librarians. “Both librarians and social workers can get behind the goal of making things easier for the most vulnerable in our society. The problem is, there are few libraries with social workers on site,” they wrote.
Her curiosity about this issue led Montague down a path she never expected to follow—her decision to pursue a doctorate at SC&I. As a Ph.D. student, Montague is nurturing existing relationships at East Brunswick Public Library (EBPL) by observing Sandra Burstyn, an intern from the Rutgers School of Social Work, in order to help further integrate the work between social workers and librarians. This will be the first time that a SC&I student will be interacting with a Rutgers MSW student placed at a New Jersey public library. SC&I hopes to continue these partnerships, as the Rutgers School of Social Work has already placed MSW students in Newark and Middlesex County Libraries.
After she graduated from SC&I with an MI, Montague kept in touch with SC&I’s Assistant Professor of Library and Information Science Charles Senteio, who taught one of her MI courses in the fall 2016 and who is now her Ph.D. advisor. She shared the article, and her interests, with her former professor. Senteio informed Montague about the initiative to place an intern at the EBPL working closely with the library’s Manager of Information Services and SC&I alumna Karen Parry MLS ’86.
Senteio, in addition to having a Ph.D. and an MBA, has an MSW and is a licensed clinical social worker. He is serving as the field placement supervisor for Burstyn, the first social work intern at the EBPL. After Senteio noticed a similarity in their interests and goals, he made sure to connect Burstyn and Montague. About their collaboration, he says, “work fashioned around equity is what social workers in libraries can help provide, important when trying to assess and address information needs in a community.”
“I’m not trained in social work, but [through this work] I’m hoping to allow other librarians to gain more knowledge about the field in order to help connect patrons to the resources and information that they need,” Montague says. “Patrons come to the library for information and it’s not only our duty to help them, but we genuinely want to help them”, she said.
In addition to her work as a Ph.D. student, Montague is also a member of the Young Professional Board for Covenant House in Newark, NJ. Covenant House is the largest privately funded agency in the Americas providing shelter, food, immediate crisis care, and an array of other services to homeless and trafficked youth. In addition to basic needs, Covenant House is designed to transition at risk youth into an independent adulthood, reducing their risk of future homelessness. Montague was able to raise over $2,000 on Instagram last spring for the organization’s annual Sleep Out event where volunteers sleep on the street so youth don’t have to. Montague says that she’d eventually like to link Covenant House to public libraries as a way to provide these young people with additional sources of information.
As a Ph.D. student working part-time as a librarian and volunteering, Montague says that being able to balance her time is “about knowing yourself well enough to understand your limits. It’s important to stay organized and focus on the task at hand. It’s also important to take breaks when you need them. Taking breaks is imperative to the overall quality of your work.”
Montague hopes to contribute to the creation of more partnerships between SC&I, the School of Social Work, and other New Jersey public libraries who are interested in partnering with social workers to help address patrons’ needs. Montague says that what makes the work that she does worth it, is the gratitude people express to her. “I hear the words ‘thank you’ more often than most people,” Montague said, “and I love that; I know I’m making a difference.”