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Libraries are often refuges for the homeless, and many library directors have tried to accommodate them by responding to behavior, not appearance or social status.
Some patrons feel nervous about the homeless in the library, many of whom have mental health "issues."
But one patron said he found a homeless guy muttering to himself a lot less annoying that people talking loudly on cell phones.
It's an interesting discussion. NPR usually archives the stories within 24 hours if you want to give a listen.
Many years ago, if you saw someone walking down the street apparently talking to himself, you assumed he was crazy. Nowadays, you just figure he's talking on his cellphone.
Amongst other things, the "Rules Governing the Use of Your Library" prohibit:
~Disturbing others because of offensive body odor
Wow, it must really suck to be the librarian who has to say, "Excuse me, sir? You'll either need to retire to the bathroom and apply some deodorant or vacate the premises. You stink."
I fully understand the aversion to the homeless. They smell, and they look dirty, and for the most part, they can't see their way out of their particular circumstances. These folks need help, and a lot more than a Library can offer. When I had the time and the money to spare, I'd buy a breakfast (to go) in the WTC, and find a homeless person on the way to the office and give it to him.
I think patrons in the libraries ought to find a bit more compassion.
Talk of the Nation on the npr.org site has included a link for listening to "Libraries Become Temporary Refuge for Homeless" (approximately 20 min.) ...And a blog with comments at http://www.npr.org/blogs/talk/2007/04/homeless_season.html
On Sunday, the speaker's Op-Ed was published in the LA Times:
A longer version of his article is available:
When I first moved here (spread out urban area), I noticed a few people obviously spending the day in the library, reading or pretending to read newspapers. Fair enough. But now I'm afraid to go to local branches. Not because of "odors" or being made "uncomfortable," but because of "disruptive behavior" which can on occasion pose a physical threat. Sure, the overburdened library staff can call the cops if things escalate. But a friend who is a branch head in the next county tells me that the cops don't appreciate being called too often, so she has actually disarmed "patrons" herself.
I thought that San Francsico legislated social policy for the world. :-) Why on earth doesn't the city/county hire social workers, instead of letting the economic burden fall upon the Library system?
I do everything I can to serve all people in the library--business people, families, unemployed, mentally ill and unescorted children. Whoever approaches me receives the same attention. Their information needs are answered as best I can with the resources available. And I stay late with calls to the homeless shelter and children calling parents who dumped them off. Recently one of the regulars-a homeless persons died on the property. We held a memorial service.
This isn't unique. Librarians have a tradition of public service and we have earned it. It isn't all sitting quietly and reading journals. We attend workshops on workplace violence and stay alert for incidents that threaten other users. Some of us scrub bathrooms because custodial help is only available after hours if all. Occassionally, someone is an understaff facility is attacked. Meanwhile, if we make an effort to draw attention to a social problem that is everyone's concern, we're accused of denying that it is in our job description. That's just another aspect of librarianship.
Clearly, the librarian who had to disarm a patron herself was dealing with someone who had a psychological disorder.
And from the stories I hear from librarians, psychological disorders are par for the course. So should children be doing their homework in a building in which people with psychological disorders are camped out? Do the most liberal and socially conscious people send their children off to enjoy such experiences, or is it only the children of the parents who can't afford some alternative who get to watch all the fun, and duck under the desks if a "patron" "acts up"?
Patrons are evicted if they are disruptive, high or intoxicated.
A librarian from the St. Louis area called in and said that a policeman patrolled the library.
A church group in Massachusetts has set up a safe house for the homeless and works with the library to get people there.
I live in a small town and we don't have homeless patrons, but women and children who seem to be on the lam from abusive husbands/dads sometimes turn up.
Librarians have posted the number of the local domestic violence shelter in the restroom. They will also call the shelter if requested by a patron.
I noticed that this winter, there were also numbers for assistance over the holidays and for the food pantry.
Patrons who may be somewhat "different" generally behave in the library. Librarians have only had to call the cops once or twice that I know of to deal with a patron who got belligerent at closing time.
At the branch nearest to me, the "campers" outnumber those there to use the library and the staff combined. No guard.
As a librarian, I have been threatened personally by users with mental health issues, and have also had to deal with complaints from library users (and staff) about body odour from people in the library. This unfortunately seems to be what you sign up for when you work with the public. We don't have security guards or anything like that. It would be great to have a social worker here, but I doubt that would ever happen.The important thing for us has been to ensure that procedures are in place to make you feel safe at work without having to bar anyone from the library.
thank you, I'm glad you replied. I hear actual accusations often enough from citizens, that I was not be sure. When it happens at work, I respond by nicely asking the person how they would like us to correct it and then listen. Perhaps on that day I needed to leave for lunch rather than rant.
live and let live, what are the homeless going to do, destroy the books?
It's not "what are the homeless going to do?" The more urgent question is what are the mentally disturbed, who are a subset of the homeless, going to do. Read the prior posts. Talk to some librarians in urban area libraries that do not have guards or social workers on hand, and don't have enough staff --- or get paid enough! --- to function as a police force, or to do the jobs of underfunded social agencies.
If you want to do away with libraries, it seems to me that dumping on them the problems that society doesn't want to deal with is a perfect way to go about it.
Edited to add: I realize that not all who are mentally disturbed are, by a long shot, violent or dangerous. But are librarians supposed to figure out which of the "residents" talking to himself without a cell phone may fall into which category? Psychiatrists get that wrong every day.
If you are just looking for some intelligent conversation, I doubt that anyone will eject you. :-)
Why have libraries been a magnet for homeless
Shelter, safety, restrooms, entertainment..And it's one of the few (if only) places where a person can be without spending money or being questionable.
I have seen our librarians have problems with teenagers on cell phones in the library and simply being too loud. This happened one day when I was in the library and the parent was actually mad at the librarian because she asked the teen to talk on her phone outside. I would never dream of using the library as a place to chat on my cell phone. This parent tried to say her child's rights were being violated. Unbelievable!
My librarian friend told me that a young kid was (for the fun of it)kicking a 62-year-old female staffer. (Left bruises.) My friend told the boy to stop, or he'd have to leave, and the mother, standing right there, filed a complaint about her child having his rights violated. Can you picture the future career of that kid?
But she says that in her urban library the gang fights are much more of a problem. Takes the police 25 minutes on average to get there, so the staff have to intervene. She is also unhappy that it falls to her to tell teens occasionally fornicating behind tall shelves, while the little kids (dropped off by parents) peek through, to cease & cover up. :-)
Our library does not allow any kind of cell phone usage at all once you are inside. I was whispering in the front, by the entrance, in an area far away from the stacks, behind a frosted glass wall, and the security guard found me. I was only on for a second trying to answer a quick question. These guys have radar!
As for people sleeping in the library at mine, because it's on campus, students come in all the time between classes for a quick nap, I guess that's what happens when you have a quiet envrionment. I don't see why we should deny homeless persons the ability to do the same thing. The only time it bugs me is when we're closing because we don't have an intercom system and have to go around to each patron individually to tell them we're closing. Some people will sleep really deeply and it's hard to wake them up. Once again though, these usually aren't the homeless patrons who leave promptly and without trouble, again in contrast with the rest of the patrons.
That said I don’t feel that libraries should have any obligation to help the homeless. That is not what they are designed for and it is not their mission. If homeless people want to come in and use the library for what it was intended (learning, reading, information, etc…), I have no issues with them being there. If they are simply using it as a place for shelter, I do have a problem. Libraries are not designed for that kind of use. They don’t have the facilities, staff, budget, or ability to manage these kinds of problems. I’m quite tired of institutions (schools, libraries, and such) being asked to pick up the slack of society. When we ask these institutions to do jobs they were not designed to do, then we can expect less and less from them in the jobs for which they were design.
As inner-city schools have become the one stop shopping for low income families’ medical, psychological, clothing, dietary and various other needs our students seem to learn less and less. First schools started providing free lunches (I’ve got zero problems with that). Then they had to provide free breakfast (I didn’t think much about it at the time). Then they tried to get clothes for kids… doctors came to schools and did exams and vaccines (for free)… eye exams and glasses (free)… dentists came to the schools (free)… psychologists/mental health centers provided counseling (free)… and the list keeps growing. With all this energy and these resources being drained from the mission of schools (to educate), how can we expect them to accomplish their real goals
I see this same slippery slope in the library dilemma. Once libraries concede that they will mange the homeless people’s needs as they arrive, our society will come to expect them to do it and we will begin to think if they are handling that, then why aren’t they dealing with this other problem. The whole thing will snowball.
The homeless issue is one that deserves our attention and these people deserve our respect, but they shouldn’t be allowed to use the libraries in ways which are extremely beyond the designed purpose of these institutions. Just because we (and our politicians) have chosen to nearly abandon the homeless doesn’t mean that libraries have an obligation to pick up that slack. If it does, then in the end, libraries will stop being libraries.
That is exactly the issue for both libraries and schools. I will now, uncharacteristically, say nothing more on the matter.
Everyone give themselves a big hug! Awwwwww!
Libraries are places for learning, reading, information use and the like. If you want to change that then by definition you no longer have a library.
Schools are so over stressed it is ridiculous. Adding to that is not a good option in my view. At some point schools stopped being a place of learning and became a state run orphanage from 8-4. As I said, I wasn’t against free food for the kids. Lunch was already a part of the day. Breakfast (regardless of what you may think) does however cost schools. It is an added part of the day. Someone must supervise. It takes away from a teacher’s precious planning time and adds work (which cost money) to the agendas of many other staff. You can say I’m being a cheapskate but schools are already scrambling for every dime they can get.
If libraries should take these people in and let them use the library as a bath, bed, shelter etc… Then why not parks, malls, museums, city county buildings, and so on…?
I’m not saying those services can’t be provided or that they shouldn’t bring the services to the people. I’m saying we need to stop putting any of that burden where it does not belong. I believe (as I said) that we do owe the homeless folks some basics and the same respect that we would give to anyone else, but we don’t owe them (or rowdy teens or any one else who isn’t using the institution for its purpose) our libraries. In my city we have a group that drives around at night and talks to runaways and homeless people out on the streets. This group provides blankets, food, basic medical services, and a variety of other ministrations to this population. I’m all for this group and many others like them. They are bringing the help to the people better than any library could ever even hope to do. The problem isn’t that my ideas aren’t liberal enough or that libraries or any other non-homeless group, business, organization, or other place should or shouldn’t provided services to these people. The problem is that our government(s) refuses to care because this isn’t a population which will vote in elections.
As far as the schools as one stop welfare sites are concerned, my question would be when does the focus become so scattered that education takes a backburner? I would say that it already started to happen for these very reasons and many others.
I asked students to listen to the NPR program and think about ways they could use homeless people in the library as a positive for libraries.
One pointed out that the NPR program itself was a good start in that it showed compassionate librarians trying to provide services to marginalized patrons.
Another said that perhaps the library could be a collection point periodically for supplies needed at the local homeless center, raising awareness of the problem in the community and its effect on the library in a positive way.
Another wondered if any homeless people had found jobs by using the library's resources and whether a feature about that person's success could help taxpayers understand the impact of the library on the community in positive ways.
Some of the student suggestions weren't feasible, especially those that wanted to expand library services to include soup kitchens and nap rooms.
But I wonder if anyone else here sees some opportunities to help library taxpayers understand what a great bang they get for their library bucks?
Let's see, that was any time between 1979 and 1989, when I moved here to central Texas....
Ed Koch was the Mayor that entire time, I think. He was a very likeable guy, in some ways very genereous, but he could also be tough as nails when he had to.
I said that earlier and it made me laugh as I just reread the thread, because, in truth, many political types don't really care about libraries.
One man, known as Aqualung (due to the beard) was arrested a couple of times a year so that he could be forcibly scrubbed down, hair cut, etc. He was a harmless mentally ill person, and pretty much a fixture in town.
I have found that social services are mostly a joke - they complain of being overworked but I never see them doing a lick of meaningful work.
We just all need to be more compassionate. My aunt takes an extra lunch to share at the park, and I volunteer at the soup kitchen and donate heavily. My mother volunteers at the community food pantry.
Every day I wake up I try to be thankful and remember to share. I think most people do want and try to help those around them.
I want to appeal to the city to develop some sort of work around to get people banned for bad behavior, and institute a card system maybe, where you can only get i with a library card, that way they can keep others out that have been banned. At the very least they, as a PUBLIC institution, should have access to some sort of hourly situation check to provide safety and security. If misbehaving patrons KNOW the cops come by often maybe they will be less likely to "conduct their business" on the premisses.
Ideas? Thoughts? Help?!
My branch has a very good security department that takes care of this sort of thing, but we're a very large city library and it sounds like your system might not have that. They ban people who don't follow the rules, and keep track of them so they can intercept banned patrons that try to return.
We also have panic buttons under the desk that we can press if anyone makes us feel immediately physically threatened.