Saturday, March 23, 2013

Parading as Homeless Shelters is Killing the Urban Library System in America

According to some, the homeless are making some libraries unsafe at any speed, crime is rampant, and patrons simply refuse to attend:

Development Arrested says:
March 18, 2013 at 4:43 pm 
In a public (and an academic!) library, librarians will work with patrons who are homeless, mentally ill, or on the spectrum.  Sometimes our own staff will have these same conditions.  They are not always the most pleasant people to work with, but that's (part) of our job. 
me too says:
March 21, 2013 at 7:45 pm 
We are not trained in the mental illness field and I am sick and tired of having a library full of people who need help that library staff are not able to provide.  When you talk about us becoming irrelevant, it will be because "regular" people stop coming to our libraries because they are afraid of the kind of people who are more and more becoming fixtures in our libraries.  Some are mentally ill, some are thieves, some are drug users, some are perverts, some are pedophiles and some are just plain evil.  That is what is going to put us out of business.  I've worked in libraries for the past 30 years and even in small town, libraries are becoming jungles.  Moms aren't going to bring kids to storytime or vote for a bond when our libraries are full of people masturbating, talking to themselves, fighting, hitting and spitting, smell like death and are obvious disease carriers. 
me too says:
March 22, 2013 at 8:45 pm 
You don’t get it.  I may have used a bit too much hyperbole for you.  The people who keep us relevant are more and more AFRAID to come to our libraries because we have become the home for all the fringe people in our culture.  It's a public library, sure, but it has become the dumping ground for social services and every other government agency that has given up or can't fund adequate care for many of these people.  I repeat, I have not the training nor do I have the desire to spend the rest of my career dealing with social issues that our state and federal governments have abandoned to us.  I don’t believe God intends the public library to be the home, hospital, bathroom, shower and bedroom for all these folks.  I'm just telling it like it is.  Do you actually think our job is to get trained in the mental health field so we can better help these folks?  I'm a friggin librarian not a miracle worker.  I don't want to be a miracle worker.  I don't want to deal with people every fucking day of my life who don't have a clue what planet they live on.  Sorry if that upsets you and God.  Perhaps you could create some kind of nirvanna for these folks at your library.  I can't. 
Charlemagne says:
March 23, 2013 at 12:33 am 
I agree.  My urban library is essentially the daily hangout for the homeless.  I have nothing against homeless as people and I think more needs to be done to prevent it, but these are the people who destroy the library for everyone else.  They are lined up at the door before we open and go back to the shelter at closing time.  It is killing us because we are not equipped or capable to be social workers or a homeless shelter.  There are, in fact, social workers and homeless shelters in existence for a reason.  We have (seemingly weekly) heroin overdoses, an upstairs bathroom that is apparently the local gay-sex hangout, people who walk around talking to themselves, people masturbating at the computers, people fist fighting over computers, exposing themselves to staff, prostitution, bathing in the bathrooms, drug dealers; and that's just the normal stuff. 
Though it isn't an official policy, the staff warns parents who bring in children because pedophiles are known to target the library.  Also, it kinda sucks when you have to check for seminal or menstrual fluid and vomit before you sit down at a desk.  I know we aren't unique in our experience as an urban library. 
The overwhelming majority of the research requests we get are over the phone.  People who are not part of the homeless population do not visit the library.  They do not feel safe here and they have stated as such.  People would rather not get the information than come in to the facility.  Last week we had someone (who had never visited before) ask immediately upon entering our area if the library in the suburbs could answer her research question because she was not comfortable in this environment.  I wonder how she will vote once a levy comes up on the ballot?  
Look, I know we are all good liberals and feel we are supporting the reactionary conservatives who disdain education if we say anything other than the homeless are a blessing and joy.  I've found that is what the underlying issue is.  But let's be honest: Libraries are not shelters.  They are not designed to be.  Librarians are not medical professionals or social workers.  We are not trained to be.  These resources exist.  We have a different mission and skills.  Are we supposed to be nurses literally handing out their psychiatric medication to tame schizophrenia?  Those who come in with the habits listed above (and throughout this thread) are hindering us from doing our job and making it less likely we will continue to receive community support. 
Look, the homeless patrons are by and large not "decent folks just down on their luck" who would easily create the next million-dollar internet start-up if only a noble librarian would show them the resume builder software.  They have these resources at the homeless shelter.  The social workers know exactly how to get these people back on their feet and they give them the opportunities.  The homeless here don't need the help from us because anything we could offer is already being offered by professionals. Sorry to say, but they generally want to remain drug addicted and use the public library as their home base, all the while treating the staff like we are their personal butlers there solely to serve them. 
Parading as a homeless shelter is killing the urban library system in America.

Source:  Comments to

The title of my post is nearly a direct quote from one of the commenters.

Note:  I have written about the homeless in libraries before:

Will the American Library Association do anything about this?  Feel free to comment below.


See also, and the comments:

URL of this page:


  1. Let's consider some facts and recognize some realities: Honey attracts bees, garbage attracts flies which produce maggots.
    Forty-one or so years ago, a book authored by an anonymous writer titled “Go ask Alice” found its way onto the public library shelves for teens. It has since been joined by hundreds of others containing the same garbage, but they have migrated to our school libraries; and the schools as well, public libraries refuse to inform the parents that such material is now available to their minor children.
    So if 2+2 always = 4, how can anyone look at this and say that children, who are now adults, haven’t been negatively impacted by it? This stuff was NOT available forty –one years ago to minor children.
    If the facts are…what we read doesn’t influence us –wouldn’t the self-help authors be out of business, and wouldn’t statistics on drug and alcohol and the many others negatives’ be level, instead of climbing? Yes, I realize that the economy plays into these factors also.
    Here’s the truly sad thing -- parents are blamed, and they are the ones to suffer the consequences as well, the child that gets ejected from the home, but here’s an action that could lower those risks.
    This is a message to the teachers and librarians… stop feeding the children this garbage and you just might have less homeless, druggies, alcoholics, and porn addicts to deal with!

  2. I am currently sitting in the Kent WA library, where, of the 15 tables, 13 are taken up by stinking, foul mouthed, homeless drug addicts and alcoholics sleeping and arguing (yelling) among themselves. Outside, there is a charity who are offering to help these people with a job immediately, but so far - no takers that I've seen. This whole situation is ridiculous and it's making the public libraries unusable. Every month, there are less and less normal people here - and more homeless. I have no problem with the legitimately homeless who sleep in their cars and work a job, and just use the library respectfully for it's internet for a few hours - they are very decent people - but the drug addicts and bums who OPENLY REFUSE to take a job? They should not be allowed to use public services at all. They stink like hell, deal drugs openly, and are threatening to other patrons. Outside is even worse - there must be at least 100 of them just hanging around, looking into people's cars and high on drugs. Our society should not be putting up with this.


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