In The L.A. Times, I just read a touching article by YA author Amy Goldman Koss about her efforts to offer reading material to the homeless. Her program is in a Glendale, California homeless shelter, but I was reminded of the role libraries play in the lives of the homeless, as well.
In local libraries, I’ve encountered the homeless on nearly every visit. Many patrons will complain about their presence, but to me, the fact that they can access reading materials, computers, and–yes–water fountains and bathrooms, adds beauty to an institution I already cherish.
Last year, in an article in Salon, Evelyn Nieves wrote that the libraries in San Francisco has officially recognized the centrality of libraries in the lives of many homeless, and is using this role to bring additional services to this population. The program has been so successful, other library systems are emulating it.
But other library systems sympathize more with the patrons who complain about “inappropriate” smells and behavior which may accompany homeless library visitors.
The ALA–American Library Association–doesn’t tell libraries what to do, but they do have information for libraries about their homeless patrons available for librarians to access should they need resources and advice.