Rochester library's social worker program extended three months

The program to provide access to social service connections through an embedded social worker at the public library was extended to help people get through the winter.

Allison Carpenter
Allison Carpenter, a Guiding Partners to Solutions (GPS) Social Worker is pictured Feb. 22, 2022, at the Rochester Public Library in Rochester.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin file photo
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ROCHESTER — The door to an embedded social worker at the Rochester Public Library is being held open.

A one-year pilot program in partnership with Family Service Rochester was set to end in December, but has been extended through March.

“We recognized, and the (Rochester Public Library) Foundation also recognized, ending this right in the middle of winter was not a good idea, because people really do need to get connected to resources,” Library Director Karen Lemke said. “In the winter, it’s especially critical in some cases.”

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The nonprofit foundation provided funds to cover three additional months of service, with up to $24,000 provided to fund a Family Service Rochester social worker for 25-to-30 hours a week.

The social worker, Allison Carpenter, has been on hand for more than a 12 months to answer library patrons’ questions and help them connect to programs in the community, which has included housing assistance, mental health resources and a variety of other social services.


Lemke said Carpenter helped 129 individuals throughout the year, with 248 official interactions logged. It does not include efforts to reach out to patrons on a personal level to determine if they could use her help.

The one-year program has been a learning experience for library staff.

“The point of the pilot program was to see if people would utilize social services in the library, and that was successful,” Lemke said.

Partnership between Rochester Public Library and Family Services Rochester provides new community access to social services.

At the same time, Lemke said it demonstrated that the current model – funded by a one-time grant and other funds – is not sustainable, largely due to the lack of ongoing financial support.

With three months added to the initial pilot program, Lemke said library staff is working with Olmsted County staff to determine whether a new model could be put in place, with the library providing space for county social workers to connect with people needing their services.

“We have a thousand people coming in our door every day, and we have all ages,” Lemke said. “There is no expectation of stigma attached for people to come into the building, so we have the space for people to make that connection.”

She said the library also offers the ability to raise awareness of any services that are provided in the building.

Still, she said, discussions of the future options for connecting library users to social workers remain in the works.


“We’re just glad the door is open,” she said of conversations regarding future efforts.

Randy Petersen joined the Post Bulletin in 2014 and became the local government reporter in 2017. An Elkton native, he's worked for a variety of Midwest papers as reporter, photographer and editor since graduating from Winona State University in 1996. Readers can reach Randy at 507-285-7709 or
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