True or False
1. 57% of NYC homeless shelter residents are NOT African American. True or False.
2. The number of homeless New Yorkers sleeping each night in municipal shelters is now 78% higher than it was ten years ago. True or False.
3. Most people who have no income will NOT move in to city shelters. True or False.
Adapted from www.theguardian.com
BROOKLYN- I sight the large stone building on my aimless walks along the street. Its vastness and architecture seem to pull me close as I pass by daily, so finally I decided to venture inside. I looked up and saw the words “Brooklyn Public Library” sprawled across the top of the wide revolving doors and immediately I felt the need to enter and satisfy my curiosity. I held my bags with all my worldly possessions tightly as I attempted to brush the wrinkles out of my crushed clothes.
I looked around and saw others going in and out as I followed even though apprehension and fear gripped me under the arms and took over momentarily. I knew I was out of place as I looked at the people around me; no one else had three big bags, wrinkled clothes and messy hair. I looked myself over one last time in the glass doors as I hurriedly created a messy updo hairstyle and tried to perfect my best false smile. I stepped inside and the familiar environment calmed my nerves – except for a few puzzled glances for no one focused on me intently. I made eye contact with the librarian sitting at the front desk. She too had a quizzical expression on her face as her gaze followed me to my seat.
I placed my belongings all around me and as I started to shuffle through them to keep up my inconspicuous act, she started walking my way. My heart weighed heavily on my chest and my head started swimming with possible excuses and explanations. From my peripheral view her seersucker two-piece suit and bone straight hair personified rigidity and unkindness. She stopped at my table; her pursed lips and folded arms intimidated me while her piercing eyes judged me from head to toe.
No one chooses to become socially excluded instead society is the pedant for placing people into certain categories and stereotypes. As humans we strive to “belong” and “fit in” to society’s’ many classes and structures. But what happens when one falls short of theses groups? Do they get regrouped? According to Cronin, in John Gehner’s article, “Libraries, Low-Income People and Social Exclusion” apparently you do, hence his inclusion of latch-key children into the same group as the poor, the low-income, the masturbators, the homeless and the porn watchers.
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. (Cronin, 2002, p.39)
Libraries exist to serve the public whether or not a person is homeless, jobless, poor or unattended. A library is not a place to generalize people. A library is not a place to breech people’s civil rights. A library is not a place to put up institutional barriers. A library is not a place to exercise social exclusion. A library is not a place to practice discrimination. And the list of what a library should not be can continue (positive or negative) for pages and pages but lets stop and think about how we can structure libraries to be more “inclusive” of everyone. Because it’s when we start to exclude people that they become offensive and so do their actions.
Gehner attempts to suggest how libraries can improve their services to reduce those persons who are considered being the socially excluded. He points out that those who are considered ‘poor’ very often carry with them their belongings wherever they go, for example, to the library. At the same time, challenges and opportunities for these poor people differ from ‘state to state, from urban to metropolitan to rural’ and that is why every librarian should use their local knowledge to imitate meaningful changes. (See abstract above)
In his article, John Gehner proposed five actions for engaging low-income people. While I agree with all five points only two will be discussed further.
Action 2: Focus on the causes of social exclusion, not just symptoms.
In other words, “What is the root cause of this condition?” Gehner cites Bonnie Lewis who posits, “social exclusion is not simply a result of ‘bad luck’ or personal inadequacies, but rather of flaws in the system that create disadvantages for certain segments of the population….” (p. 42) Right now libraries are facing limited or diminishing funding so fees and fines represent alternative revenue. This places a burden on librarians and users, so much so that low-income users are subtly denied library access. Fees and fines signify for low-income, jobless and homeless patrons that they will never get the opportunity to overcome their situations since they struggle everyday to survive.
Action 3: Remove barriers that alienate socially excluded groups.
‘Breaking barriers’ describes a variety of factors that intimidate, alienate and otherwise discourage socially excluded segments of the community. They are subtle and insidious, and are ingrained in library culture.” (p. 43) This shows that teens find that libraries are too restrictive while immigrants and refugees confront an: ‘institutional culture….’ E.g. they cannot visit and socialize to which they have been accustomed. Gehner states that how we interact one-on-one with new patrons can make a profound difference. For example, “ do you offer a welcoming orientation or a bureaucratic exchange?” I want to think that, most libraries do not always foster a welcoming atmosphere for patrons. For individuals who would normally visit the library it is sometimes hard to get the librarians attention. Therefore when less fortunate individuals enter the library’s atmosphere tends to overwhelm them.
Engaging low-income people, jobless individuals and the homeless into the library structure is achievable following Gehner’s five proposed actions along with a librarians’ willingness to accommodate institutional changes.
Brooklyn Public Library. (2015), Grand Army Plaza. 10 Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn, NY 11238.
Coalition for the Homeless. (2015), The Catastrophe of Homelessness. Retrieved from http://www.coalitionforthehomelsee.org
Gehner, J. (2010), Libraries, Low-Income People and Social Exclusion, Public Quarterly, 29:1, 39-47.