Thursday 19 June 2014

Blog Every Day in June Day 19 : Libraries and the Homeless

This time last year I was in Chicago attending the American Library Association Annual Conference, completing research as part of the Kath Knowles Award. I attended a number of sessions on public libraries providing quality services to people who are homeless, following rising rates of homelessness in the US.

One session that particularly stood out to me was a panel session about libraries working in partnership with local youth workers to develop relationships with homeless youth in the area. Two such youth were on the panel and telling the audience about what the library meant to them as a safe place where they could meet friends and take time out from the streets.

'One youth explained how, without a safe place to sleep, you pretty much
need to walk around all night, because if you do stop or go to sleep, your
chances of being robbed or assaulted start to go up. Even staying in some
shelters, if you can get a bed, is not guaranteed to be a safe night. He spoke
about how with only limited sleep, you cannot function properly as a human

being, and you will start to get sick. That is why the library becomes such an
attractive place to spend time, as it is safe, sheltered and quiet.'

The stories I gathered from the library professionals I met at the conference informed a lot of the work I completed within this project and assisted with the development of ‘Libraries are for everyone’, a toolkit for public libraries to rethink services in the context of providing for those who are homeless. The toolkit has been developed in partnership with Newcastle Region Library, City of Sydney Library, NSW State Library and The Footpath Library.

The toolkit highlights the important leadership role that public libraries can play in shifting community attitudes toward library users who are homeless and also offers some practical ideas for implementing targeted programs or services to those in need. This includes rethinking membership requirements for better access opportunities and building relationships with community organisations and homeless shelters to increase understanding and develop services to meet the needs of the homeless in your community.

Taking these actions are important steps toward building the sense of belonging and meeting the need to connect with others that can also be missed by those who are not having their most basic needs of food and shelter met. Public libraries can promote equity in their communities by actively investigating the needs of people who are homeless within their community and providing the correct service and access levels to meet those needs. We can also lead the conversations within the community about how we can best meet these needs and promote understanding.

For my full report, please visit here, and stay tuned for publication information on the toolkit! 

Heather Davis is the Service Planning Manager at Waverley Library. 
She has been investigating the role of public libraries in providing service to people who are homeless since 2012 after receiving the Kath Knowles Award for her project proposal on the topic. This month she will be continuing the conversation as part of the ALIA LinkedIn Professional Discussion series.

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