meanwhile, back at the library

I really have to stop reading the comments section of the Olympian online. I guess it is like slowing down on the freeway to check out a car wreck. What brought me to the Olympian on this occasion was the reporting on the pedestrian interference ordinance that was just passed by the city. Of course I had to slow down and check out the car wreck that was the comments on the article.

While I find it offensive to read much of the comments, some are particularly revealing. One person wrote extensively about an experience at the Olympia Library. Some of the highlights were “the furniture was filthy with urine & vomit stains” “snoring bums” “unflushed stools” (you just knew that feces would work into the conversation somewhere).

I spend a fair amount of time in the library, probably too much time. I should actually be reading the books that I borrow, but that is something for another post. I have found the library in Olympia to be well used. Perhaps that translates into crowded, but for me it just tells me that Olympians love their library and use the heck out of it. The library is not just populated by the homeless. Yes the homeless use the library, it is a public library, and the homeless are the public. I have seen people sleeping in the library. Indeed, babies in their carriers, elderly well dressed men, business women catching a few winks, homeless people, to be sure, as well. People sleep in libraries, no big news there. Some snoring may be loud, but the loudest snorer I’ve ever heard in the library was probably a woman state worker. I kept looking around to see if there was construction going on somewhere in the library. I’m still looking for the urine and vomit stained furniture. I’m not sure where people are getting the notion that the library is a vomitorium.

The restrooms, while not pristine, were never what I would consider unsanitary. We do have the issue of too many people and too few facilities. Yes, people without homes will use public restrooms to wash up. I’m not sure it is fair to complain about “smelly bums” and then complain about the same people trying to do something about their hygiene. One complaint per customer, it is the smelly bums or it is the bums trying to freshen up, pick one and move along.

Sometimes you have to go a long way out of your way just to come back a short distance. All of the foregoing was to get me to my real point, the point I gleaned from the comments. The writer said that they would boycott the library and only take their children to Barnes and Noble and Borders from now on.

Those places are very much like libraries, but without the sleeping, snoring, smelly bums. They are like the library but without the weapons of mass defecation. They are like the library because they are public. Wrong.

B&N and Borders are not public. In no way shape or form are they public. A charge of trespassing can be made upon you for the slightest infraction. And maybe this is my real point. It seems to me that a good many people are really not comfortable with the public realm. They don’t understand the concept of a public life, they don’t know how to interact with a public life. They fear a public life. People want a controlled public realm. A mall or Borders provides this. Many people want a public life in a place that is exclusionary. For sure no homeless person would be able to spend much time in a Borders, they have security guards to deal with the homeless. For sure no homeless person could use the restrooms of a Borders, the restrooms are for customers only. Too many people seem to be very comfortable with the notion of private public places. Not me. Don’t like them. Anything that is about excluding people I don’t want anything to do with.A public library is just that, public. There are books, there is furniture. Facilities are made available for all to use.

The other night I though I was going to a sit down at Last Word books. I was the only sitter to show up. I had an hour and a half before the next bus or I could catch a bus leaving in just a few minutes. It was cold, kind of damp. 6 pm, hours before one could legally sit or sleep on a sidewalk when the new ordinance starts being enforced. If it was that cold at 6 pm I was wondering how people can sleep at all when it is way colder and they don’t even have the warm clothing that I have.

If it is too cold in my apartment I have trouble getting a good night’s sleep. I can’t imagine people being able to get the rest they need sleeping on a frigid sidewalk. Maybe that is why homeless sleep in the library. It is warm and they are dead tired. I don’t know much about a lot of things but I can tell you that if you don’t start your day after a good night’s sleep you just really aren’t able to accomplish much. Doesn’t matter if you are a CEO of a company, a state worker, or a homeless person. Get a job some will say to the panhandlers. Get some good sleep is what I’d wish.

There is a concerted effort to destroy a true public realm. This is not only true in Olympia, it is true everywhere else in our country. If I owned a Borders I’d probably be complaining about smelly bums at the library. It is good for business. If I owned a Starbucks I’d be complaining about vicious panhandlers so that people are driven into the confines of my shop. There are so many, and in my opinion bogus, complaints about what goes on in public. All of these complaints are designed to drive people to private public spaces. The complaints are designed to drive people to commerce. A private public place is something money can be made off of. Years ago it was laughable that people would be buying water in bottles. Now people are attempting to make money off of a concept that formerly free of profit, the concept of a public realm.What little of the public realm that is left is worth fighting for. I just don’t know if we can compete with corporate America. We have a fight on our hands, you are either with us or you are against us. And while we are at it, let’s get some UN inspectors to check out those weapons of mass defecation at the library.


Blogger pragmadude said...

This was an interesting and thoughtful article. I would like to add another perspective. A large percentage of homeless people suffer from mental illness. They are not harmless. They pose a risk to themselves and others. A large percentage of the homeless are alcoholics and can be dangerous and agressive when intoxicated. Rather than merely tolerating this segment of the homeless population's presence in public places, I think the right thing to do is to provide for involuntary incarceration in medical facilities providing treatment and supervision. This will cost big time tax dollars, but the long term benefits will bring both economic and moral return on the investment.

9:58 PM  

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