Homeless patrons are an important topic that many in the library professions, if not all, discuss. Even so, it seems that not much has been done. It is a difficult subject to approach because of the all the varying variables. Librarians are trained as librarians not social workers. That doesn’t mean that librarians can’t help. Libraries provide a crucial service to both homeless and other patrons. Libraries are full of resources that the homeless can utilize to improve their overall state of life.
Unfortunately, there is a limit to how much service can be provided. Libraries as of today are not equipped to handle to the complete needs of the homeless patrons. However, there are some libraries that are going the extra mile to ensure that they provide different services to their homeless patrons. As I mentioned in class, one such is the San Francisco Library, who hired a social worker. In an interview with Leah Esquerra, the social worker, she described her role in the library and how she reaches out to homeless patrons to discuss different options they can take. Another library offered showers to their homeless patrons. As a result, their job opportunities grew because they could appear somewhat cleaner to potential employers.
While these libraries have put forth great ideas to help the homeless people of their communities, these ideas aren’t feasible for all communities. Not all libraries can afford or accommodate those changes into their space. For example, the overwhelming population of homeless in New York would make it increasingly difficult for libraries if that population used those resources. Unless the library focused an unreasonable amount of their resources on this situation, the situation won’t be resolved. Does that mean that these libraries should them? Of course not! There are limitations to all actions, but there are actions that can be taken. Like I mentioned before libraries can offer the services they do provide to them.
Even with all these advances there are a lot of difficulties when approaching homeless patrons. The mentally ill homeless patrons are a clear example. In some cases, they can become violent. In these cases, there isn’t anything anyone not trained to handle the situation can do. These situations can alienate the other patrons libraries serve. When the conflict arises where a library has to choose between serving all customers and most customers; the easiest solution is to choose the majority. You can’t please everyone. But you can try and please as many people as possible. That then leaves the homeless and other “undesirable” patrons behind. That begs the question; do libraries have a moral obligation to serve homeless patron if there is a possibility that they can alienate other patrons.
Personally, I would like to believe that everyone, on a moral level, feels the need to help those in need. Unfortunately, the world doesn’t work that way. Those inclined to do so, can ignore the struggles of another in favor of assisting someone else. One person was Blaise Cronin. In his statement in the Library Journal, Cronin stated:
A library is not a community masturbation center. A library is not a porn parlor. A library is not a refuge for the homeless. A library is not a place in which to defecate, fornicate, or micturate. A library is not a bathing facility. A library is not a dumping ground for latch-key children. Many librarians can follow his ideas and choose to alienate themselves from that part of the community.
For those that think differently, there are a ton of resources libraries and librarians have to help themselves understand and eventually help those in need. There are guidelines outlined by the American Library Association that other libraries can incorporate into their own policies. In the ALA “Library Services to the Poor” policy, outlines different objectives to ensure that the homeless or poor are thoroughly considered in the library’s overall view. Libraries can reach out to organizations within their communities that are better equipped to handle serious situations. Social workers can offer tips and advice for how to communicate with homeless patrons who may have mental disabilities or be victims of serious crimes.
In one example, the Madison Public Library, there are spaces designated for non-profit organizations to assist the homeless and poor patrons. The spaces have been redesigned to accommodate all patrons as best as possible. I feel like this a great response to the conversation in class. Many expressed that there are services already available to the homeless but because they are underfunded, they don’t can’t always help. The idea was that there should be a greater focus on helping those organizations so that they can focus on the people they are meant to help. By partnering with these organizations, libraries are providing support to those organizations. The community then sees that both the library and the other organizations are providing for everyone, which can have a great impact on how people approach this topic.
One a larger scale, museums face the same situation. How can all educational informational institutions assist homeless patrons when they haven’t been trained to do so? Should museums enforce strict polices to limit what kind of patrons enter their space in order to protect their artifacts and priceless collections? Why does the state of one’s clothing matter when a person is trying to enrich their knowledge and overall state of life? Can museums and libraries be faces of change when it comes to how the public addresses homelessness and the homeless?
I believe so. I believe that every institution can demonstrate to the rest of their communities that the homeless should not be excluded, ostracized or demeaned because of their state of dress, smell, or mental state. They are humans like every other human on this planet. They have the same rights even if they are not mentally aware of them. Through small acts such as providing them with information guides, books, locations to help, museum and library staff can demonstrate to the rest of the world that they value the homeless patrons as much as the other patrons.
I think there needs to be a large initiative by all museums and libraries to address these issues to ensure that the homeless patrons have voices in their own communities.