Posted by: Dean | January 7, 2009


There will be no sleeping allowed at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Public Library and branches in Washington, D.C.  I  hope they’ve already banned urinating in non-restroom areas, exposing one’s self to others, stinking up one or more rooms with body odor or other undisclosed aromas, spitting on library staff, using the restrooms for bathing, laundry, or shaving, fighting over a newspaper, drinking alcoholic beverages, and swearing at the staff or the public.

All urban public libraries and many small city public libraries have seen all these and much more.  Public libraries are magnets for the homeless, transients, mentally ill and developmentally disabled.  They are open long hours, much like retail stores, but with more liberal policies on admittance.

There has been  quite a bit of national news focus on public libraries and their services since the economic downturn.  These libraries have seen big increases in circulation, door count, and program attendance.  There has been little mention of libraries as places to go for those with little or no shelter or as a place to  get out of the cold. 

This is not a new development.  Libraries have housed the homeless and transients for decades.  When sevices for the mentally disabled were slashed and individuals were de-institutionalized, public libraries became the public spaces of choice for those who were mainstreamed. 

The libraries in D.C. are trying to get ahead of the nasty curve that’s breaking sharply in cities across the country.  No sleeping, brothers and sisters.  Advocates for the homeless probably or may think this is heartless but public libraries must insist that all users of their facilities follow the same behavioral guidelines.  People who sleep or pass out in libraries sure don’t make those libraries very welcoming places for others who want to take advantage of resources, services, and programs.


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