Children and LibrariesThis story doesn’t really have much to do with children’s services, but I wanted to pass it along anyway, just in case you hadn’t read it. It’s an excellent op-ed piece from last year, published in the Los Angeles Times and titled “Shelters for Dickens, Shakespeare and the homeless,” written by Chip Ward, former assistant director of the Salt Lake City Public Library.

If you’ve worked in a public library, whether as a children’s librarian or in any other position, you’ve had to deal with the chronically homeless. Often, as Ward says in the article, these are people who are mentally ill or intoxicated, and it’s often hard to know the best way to deal with them. Like everyone else who has worked for several decades in a public library, I have stories to tell about the chronically homeless; there’s the man who built walls of encyclopedia volumes around his place at one of the main reading room tables, and growled at anyone who needed to consult one.

There’s the homeless woman who trapped a library employee in a women’s restroom and wouldn’t let her out until a security guard heard her shouts for help, forced his way through the door, and freed her. And, as a children’s librarian, I have of course dealt with several mentally ill homeless men who have (temporarily, until someone escorted them outside) taken up a spot in the children’s room and just sat there glowering at the children who got too close, which is enough to make the library a scary place for those kids.

(And yes, I know that I have elsewhere written that a man sitting in the children’s area should not be removed. I have been fortunate to have worked in libraries in which behavior is the most important criterion for why someone – no matter their age or gender – can be escorted elsewhere. These homeless men were not in the children’s section to use the children’s section, and were obviously frightening kids. But it’s always a tough call.)

You would think that after nearly three decades of dealing with chronically homeless people in public libraries, that we would have found better ways of dealing with the problem. But, still, especially in large urban libraries, the problem goes on.

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