Libraries and the Homeless: Caregivers or Enforcers/excerpt FWD

Tom Boland (
Sat, 30 May 1998 11:07:44 -0700 (PDT)

FWD *excerpt* from:

Judi Silver - University of South Carolina

1996 Judi Silver jsilver@mint.netUniversity of South Carolina
The Katharine Sharp Review ISSN 1083-5261, No. 2, Winter 1996


   13.How important a resource is the library to the homeless? Aside from
the shelter it provides, if the library is keyed into the complex and
multiple needs of these people, it can serve as an important center for the
dissemination of vital knowledge that otherwise cannot be obtained without
private ownership of books, periodicals, and newspapers. In Santa Monica,
California, as in many receptive libraries throughout the country, the
homeless are reading and computer networking. The library provides an
atmosphere of tolerance and serves as a clearinghouse for cultural events
(Taylor, 1992).
   How we perceive the problem of homelessness determines how we meet the
challenge of their management. Homeless people are still in need of shelter
and access to information in order to break away from a pattern of failure.
It is our obligation to respond to these needs with dignity.
   Many of us are not comfortable working with people who are substance
abusers, who are unemployed, and who do not have the capabilities to
organize a productive life. "As individuals, we should try to ask ourselves
why they make us so uncomfortable, without drawing the conclusion that our
discomfort destroys our obligation" (Seltser & Miller, 1993, p. 127).
   However, abusive behavior, potent body odors, and flagrant disregard for
library rules are not acceptable behaviors. Once a prototype of conduct is
established, it is then the library's responsibility to look for ways in
which to serve the homeless. Information dispersal is our specialty, and we
as librarians need to broaden our knowledge of area services by extending
our relationships with community organizations that aid the homeless.
   We can help alleviate the pressure on libraries by serving on committees
to develop day shelters. We can establish outreach programs to these
shelters, and set up depository libraries that are accessible to the
homeless. We can organize food drives, we can refer the homeless to
appropriate agencies, and we can be catalysts of social awareness in our
own communities.
   Programs take time, money and resources. But many of the communities
described in this paper have achieved success with limited financial
backing. Their programs were created with the enthusiastic support of
organizations and individuals who defined the problem as a community

   14.Recognizing the multiple origins of homelessness is the first step in
allowing ourselves to emerge from a defensive, angry attitude toward the
homeless. Regardless of how weary we are of this situation, it is our
problem, and we must respond to it. Let us respond with care and


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