The Social Work Living Library Legacy Project

Robin Sen, Lecturer in Social Work in the Department of Sociological Studies, University of Sheffield, tells us about this project, which he is jointly undertaking, with Nora McClelland and Bev Jowett from the social work team.

Increasingly social work education has sought to involve, engage and make use of the ‘expertise through experience’ of those who have used social work services or cared for those who have. However, such involvement is not without its own challenges: going beyond tokenistic involvement , trying to ensure that service users’ contribution to course delivery is a positive experience for them and developing a meaningful learning experience for students are three key challenges.

Responding to these challenges this project seeks to undertake three primary tasks:

Firstly, to facilitate a small series of ‘Living Library Events’ building on a pilot event last year and creating a sustainable format for a ‘Living Library Event’ to be integrated within social work teaching at the University. The concept of a Living Library is that service users, carers and current social work practitioners are ‘live books’ who speak about their experiences of receiving or delivering social work services (both good and otherwise) to social work students. Students then undertake short reflective exercises of how their future practice might change in light of hearing these accounts. The key learning points are then fed back to service users, carers and practitioners to give them some sense of how the sharing of their accounts may positively influence future social workers. Further developments of the concept will be explored during the project – for example the co-construction of a future Living Library Event foregrounding the mutual exchange of experiences between different ‘books’, where student social workers also share experiences which led them to studying social work with service users and carers.

Secondly, to develop with students Learning Objects from their reflective accounts of involvement in the Living Library Events which will serve as a resource for future students around key learning which current students have taken from the Living Library Events which they would wish to pass on to future generations of students or those interested in thinking about a career in social work.

Thirdly, to provide a digital record of the Living Library, approximately ten video or audio interviews will be undertaken with practitioners and service users who have been involved in the Living Library events . It is hoped that social work students themselves will undertake and analyse the interviews, gaining insight into the process of qualitative research through this.

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