Gimme Shelter: Libraries Learning To Live With Homeless
NPR recently reported on San Francisco Library's main branch and some of the more bizarre behavior displayed by its users. Outside the normal sights of homeless camped out for the day and bathing in the sink, recent incidents included a man hitting another man with a chair and a man who was asked to leave the library after urinating on books. Twice.
Not just an urban issue, a Burlington, VT library is installing locks on its restroom doors after the toilets were clogged with hypodermic needles and other drug paraphernalia. For the third time.
It brings up the important question of what's right for libraries and the people who use them.
On the one hand, incidents like these make it difficult for some users to avail themselves of library resources. On the other, many, many of the homeless and other patrons aren't necessarily doing anything wrong. Bill Cochran of Billings Public Library, another system that sees its fair share of homeless, puts it this way:
[the homeless] are entitled to be here, unless their conduct takes them away from here. If they are low-income, or their appearance is such, it doesn’t necessarily mean their conduct is bad. For years we have separated appearance from conduct. We are all entitled as citizens to be in the library.
Indeed, the San Francisco Public Library has decided to deal with issues head-on, being the first library in the United States to hire a full-time social worker.
What's right for your library? What would you like to see when you walk in the doors?
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