Chip Ward just retired after 29 years at the Salt Lake City Public Library. He left as the assistant director and might be the highest ranking library administrator to let the "dirty little secret" out.
What's the secret?
"Public libraries have become de facto daytime shelters for the nation's street people while librarians are increasingly our unofficial social workers for the homeless and mentally disturbed."
Of course this is not news to anyone who frequents the downtown library in any city. We all have our homeless stories.
Some of Chip's homeless highlights:
-"Don't mind me, I'm dead. It's okay. I've been dead for some time now."
-"The... Jews have been at it again"
-Franklin "carefully pokes out the eyes of the celebs in any photo" in any of the magazines he reads
-"Bob tends to pace restlessly all day and is often on the move when, without warning, his seizures strike"
Keep in mind this is Salt Lake City!
I recently did a post on our new downtown library here in Seattle. In my research for the piece I watched a video of a presentation by architect Joshua Prince-Ramus, who was U.S. Director of Rem Koolhaas's Office of Metropolitan Architecture during the libraries construction. The video focuses on the collaborative process of building the library.
What I learned:
The Koolhaas designed Seattle Central Library might be the first library in history to have homelessness be a major factor in the "collaborative process". The library was built from the ground up with them in mind.
The consequence of this, our "dirty little secret", is that the library will always be mired in the form vs. function debate. Lawrence Cheek's recent article in the Seattle PI and the 59 comments that follow being the most recent flurry. It is designed as much to keep them out as it is to keep us in.
This is Reganomics gone wild. Hopefully the 2008 election will be the beginning of getting these people the services they need and giving our libraries a chance to fulfill their core mission for the communities they serve.
Ward's Op-Ed titled "What they Didn't Teach Us in Library School: The Public Library as an Asylum for the Homeless" originally appeared at TomDispatch.
It has also appeared in various places under various titles and is getting a lot of play in the librarian blogosphere.
AlterNet title: "America Gone Wrong: A Slashed Safety Net Turns Libraries into Homeless Shelters". 205 comments to the post here so get comfortable.
LA Times title: "Shelters for Dickens, Shakespeare and the homeless". This is an edited version.
Medindia.com title: "Public Libraries Turning into Shelters for the Homeless in US"
My post back in November "Library as Shelter" touched on the issue here in Seattle.