Finding and Using Sources as a Working Social Worker: Home

Learn how to find open access and proprietary sources as a Columbia School of Social Work graduate.


Guide developed by Ask-a-Librarian Intern Adira-Danique Philyaw and Social Work & Professional Studies Librarian Kae Bara Kratcha in Spring 2023.

About this guide

This guide is meant to help alumni and soon-to-be alumni of the Columbia School of Social Work find and use appropriate and reliable sources for social work practice without full student access to the Columbia Libraries system. Each tab provides guiding questions, suggestions, and resources. The tabs are:

Guiding questions

  • As a social worker, how do I know what I know?
  • What principles guide me in finding and integrating new information into my social work practice?

Considering different ways of knowing through cultural competency

Cultural competence refers to the process by which individuals and systems respond respectfully and effectively to people of all cultures, languages, classes, races, ethnic backgrounds, religions, spiritual traditions, immigration status, and other diversity factors in a manner that recognizes, affirms, and values the worth of individuals, families, and communities and protects and preserves the dignity of each" (Fong, 2004; Fong & Furuto, 2001; Lum, 2011).

Learn more about the Standards and Indicators for Cultural Competency in Social Work Practice.

When finding your sources, you want to evaluate them based on the client you are working and be mindful of what you are bringing into the room as you carry out your work.

Think about the client’s:

  • Cultural background and how this may impact their behavior (e.g., Does their culture have a certain way they do things? Who is seen as an authority figure in their culture?, etc.)

  • Do they have a hierarchy of knowledge that impacts their beliefs? How can you honor this knowledge system as you’re going through your practice and building interventions for them?

  • What is their end goal? Are your practices in alignment with these end goals? Should they be?

Think about your:

  • Way of developing knowledge. Will you need to learn new skills to help the client?

  • Personal bias or stereotypes. How do these shape how you see yourself and the client? Do you need to change them to do better work and research?

  • What is your end goal? Does it align with the client’s end goals? How does it impact the way you’re researching and the information you’re retrieving or not accessing for the case?

Tips on finding information as a social worker from CSSW faculty

Tips gathered from faculty by Adam Pellegrini, CSSW Writing Center Director.

  • Practice context: People you work with inform clinical decision making
  • Grad school: Save your readings from class as a start to your work library
  • Continuing education: Licensed clinical social workers access new/different information through CEU training
  • Open access: Look at academic commons sites in universities + Google Scholar
  • Orgs/Gov agencies: Reports and practice tools may be available on websites for organizations (e.g., RAND, Brookings Institute) and government websites (e.g., Department of Justice)
  • Libraries: Lean on local libraries, Library of Congress, and online databases (e.g., Cochrane Library offers meta-reviews of existing health-related research)
  • Gray literature: Clinician blogs, newsletters, and reports from relevant associations (e.g., Association of Contextual Behavioral Science)
  • Network: Contact leading researchers, practitioners, experts directly
  • Public: Follow policy stories in the public domain through online media
  • Where you work: As possible, make access to information + training/learning opportunities a criterion of your job search

Social Work & Professional Studies Librarian