Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Libraries And The Homeless

From a post at Impagination

I’ve just finished a review of the LIS literature on public libraries and the homeless for my research methods class. One striking thing I noticed is the dearth of empirical research conducted on issues specific to homeless public library patrons, despite the potential for valid, authoritative data to strengthen the claims of social justice advocates and bring both public attention and funding dollars to support libraries providing sanctuary and services to the homeless. Vanessa Budnick makes an interesting point about this in her Masters Thesis on the perceptions of library students and professionals toward the homeless.

Librarians often use the argument that they must pay great heed to the voices of “tax-paying” users. However, every article that I read about the homeless and libraries neglected to identify if the policies or attitudes truly were a reflection of public complaints. Admittedly it would be a challenge to approach patrons to see if homeless patrons were a concern; however, it seems likely that any “problem” behaviors are documented and that the creation of policies against body odor and bed rolls are substantiated by records of these complaints. Yet, where is the evidence? Library articles discuss homelessness, but rarely seem to back-up their statements with proof. Are these “problem patrons” a problem for the staff or for other patrons? Not to say that staff complaints are not valid, but we cannot cloak our decisions in patron beliefs when the concerns are really from the staff. (“Perceptions” 9)

Click Impagination for the rest of this great article.