Libraries and the Homeless

This was originally posted as a comment on an Olyblog thread by Crenshaw Sepulveda, but I thought it deserved its own thread, so I have reposted it here:

For as long as there have been public libraries the libraries have provided refuge for the homeless. A truly democratic government service, the public libraries serve all that avail themselves of their services. One simply has to enter the library to be entitled to the services it provides.

Service to the homeless has gone hand in hand with the provision of library service. This is not their mission, to be sure, but maybe it is time the library realizes that this has been an untended part of their mission for over a century. As a former library professional I fully understand how libraries have approached the homeless in the past. Libraries realize they will serve many of the homeless. They also want to mitigate the impact of the homeless on the service whenever possible. Many libraries institute rules directly to mitigate and govern the behaviors of the homeless. For instance a library might prohibit large backpacks from the library. This is something many of the homeless have. The impact of the rule is that the homeless with the backpack will be reluctant to use the library if they have to leave their pack unattended. To be sure a large and cumbersome backpack might provide some minor hazard to other library users in a crowded environment, but the net effect is to prohibit such homeless from the library. There are many other examples, but you get the point.

What libraries have to do now, and in the future, is to embrace their role as providers of services to the homeless. No more punitive rules to keep the homeless from the services. But they must do more. How much would it add to the construction of a library to provide a Urban RestStop on the grounds, an Urban RestStop being public showers, laundry, safe storage of belongings, at the minimum. The URS could be staffed by volunteers.

Public libraries must embrace their role in services to homeless. Libraries need to stay open longer. I know for many of the homeless the worst hours they face are the hours after the library is closed. As a government agency the library has proven to be the most empowering of any govermental agency, with out a doubt. Let us see the library become more inclusive and embrace their role as being a positive force in the lives of the homeless.

"I would make it impossible for the covetous and avaricious to utterly impoverish the poor. The rich can take care of themselves."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The following are the rules of the Tacoma Public Libaray, guess and see if you can tell which ones target the homeless:

A person may lose library privileges for:

* Engaging in disorderly conduct.
* Making noise or engaging in boisterous behavior.
* Bringing in any dangerous weapon unless permitted by law
* Creating an unsafe environment in the library.
* Bringing food or beverages into the library unless authorized.
* Smoking or any other use of tobacco.
* Making use of the restrooms for any purpose for which they were not intended.
* Sleeping in the library.
* Misuse of library furniture or equipment.
* Interfering with or blocking free passage with bicycles, large backpacks, carts, and similar items.
* Failing to maintain control over personal belongings.
* Soliciting, distributing materials, petitioning, or canvassing.
* Entering or remaining barefoot or shirtless.
* Materially interfering with others' use of the Library because of poor personal hygiene.
* Bringing in animals, other than certified assistive animals.
* Leaving children under the age of seven in the Library unattended.

The Tacoma Public Library has served a homeless population for over 100 years. These rules represent the modern day approach to the homeless.

Crenshaw Sepulveda

5:18 PM  

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