Sunday, July 09, 2006

In Worcester --Suit Filed over Library's Homeless Policy. A Librarian at the Kitchen Table. No. 381.

In spite of the actions at Worcester, librarians do have a commitment to the poor.
The American Library Association approved Poor People’s Policy [61] passed in 1990. In 1996 SRRT formed a Task Force on Hunger, Homelessness and Poverty (HHP) to promote the “Poor People’s Policy.” Subsequently, the HHP Task Force mounted major conference programs, secured policy-support from ALA Presidential candidates, initiated a SRRT resolution on poverty-related subject headings, distributed resources and information, encouraged the Office for Literacy & Outreach Services Advisory Committee to create a Poverty Subcommittee, published a first-ever statement on class and libraries in American Libraries, and spawned an activist’s “cookbook,” Poor People and Library Services, edited by TF member Karen Venturella.

The “Poor People’s Policy” states, “The American Library Association promotes equal access to information for all persons, and recognizes the urgent need to respond to the increasing number of poor children, adults, and families in America. These people are affected by a combination of limitations, including illiteracy, illness, social isolation, homelessness, hunger, and discrimination, which hamper the effectiveness of traditional library services. Therefore it is crucial that libraries recognize their role in enabling poor people to participate fully in a democratic society, by utilizing a wide variety of available resources and strategies.” The policy objectives include training to sensitize library staff to issues affecting poor people and to attitudinal and other barriers that hinder poor people’s use of libraries, and promoting among library staff the collection of food and clothing donations, volunteering personal time to anti-poverty activities and contributing money to direct-aid organizations.

July 9, 2006 Boston Globe article:
First the city launched a campaign to stop panhandling, urging residents to give to charities, not the people shaking cups on street corners and sidewalks. Then came a proposal for zoning restrictions to keep homeless shelters out of residential neighborhoods.It was all part of Worcester's effort to improve its image and attract new business.
But when the Worcester Public Library cut the number of books homeless people could borrow to two at a time -- as opposed to the 40 books other residents could check out -- book lovers in the city's shelters decided to fight back.

Last week, three homeless patrons of the library filed a class action lawsuit in US District Court, alleging that the policy violates their constitutional right to equal access to public services. The plaintiffs include a homeless couple whose 8-year-old daughter seeks out the latest Lemony Snicket adventures, and a woman who fled a home where she was the victim of domestic violence....
Librarians across Massachusetts are also watching the lawsuit: Other public libraries, such as the ones in Springfield and Fitchburg, impose their own limits on the number of books homeless patrons can borrow....
On the streets and in the stacks Friday, homeless people and others expressed disdain for the two-book limit for homeless people. Sympathy for the policy was in short supply.

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