Survey: Homeless People Appreciate Public Libraries
Public libraries can do more to serve their homeless patrons, says Alma College Librarian Angie Kelleher, a former social worker who researched the topic.
“There’s a lot of library literature about this topic, but most of it is from a librarian’s perspective,” says Kelleher. “I wanted to know the perspective of homeless people, so I surveyed over 100 homeless people in a metropolitan area.”
Because public libraries put few restrictions on who can use their services, libraries are traditionally popular with homeless people, says Kelleher.
Alma College Librarian Angie Kelleher (left).
“Libraries are free, and they’re open for a good portion of the day,” she says. “You can stay warm at the library in the winter, and cool in the summer. Libraries are a safe place for homeless people.”
In addition to these benefits, the homeless people Kelleher surveyed said they appreciated the many services libraries offer, including computer and Internet access. The survey provided some surprising results as well.
“Librarians often report homeless people sleeping in libraries or using the restrooms to wash their clothes, but very few chose these options on my survey,” she says. “Likely, they were embarrassed to say they used the library in this way.”
Though librarians cannot create change to the degree governmental bodies can, public libraries can address the issue of homelessness by making more of an effort to serve their homeless patrons, says Kelleher.
“Libraries can allow homeless people to use the address of a homeless shelter for their library card,” she says. “While the chances of getting material back may not necessarily be as high as for other patrons, libraries need to be willing to lose a certain amount of material if they are committed to providing homeless patrons with the same service as their other patrons.”
Public libraries also can help their homeless patrons by organizing special programming, such as movie nights for children and families in shelters, says Kelleher. She encourages librarians to implement similar ideas.
“Reach out to the homeless shelters and other service providers in your community and find out what their needs and policies are,” she says. “Be aware of the services within your area, so you have a good information base of referrals to offer homeless people who come into your library.”
Kelleher’s research reminded her, however, that information isn’t always enough. Homeless people may have all the information they need, but sometimes resources such as money, transportation or childcare also are needed, she says.
“Without resources, no amount of information is going to end a person’s homelessness,” she says. “Libraries have very good intentions, and their homeless patrons appreciate them. However, real change needs to come from policies that can address the issues that contribute to homelessness.”
Posted: Mon, June 27th, 2011 at 1:22PM