Librarians: Social Workers & Babysitters

An interesting article ran at AlterNet today entitled, America Gone Wrong: A Slashed Safety Net Turns Libraries into Homeless Shelters. Here’s the blockquote:

A dirty little secret about America is that 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.

Now all of my loyal readers already know these things. For every person mentioned in this article my Library has its own equivalent. From Special Ed, to Porn Man, to Virus Guy, to the odious odorous woman in the wheelchair who used to come in doing legal research… Until she was committed. One of my coworkers says that the public library is the crack in the bottom of civilization that everything eventually falls into.

Sadly, just as the article states, librarians are very much like social workers without any of the requisite training or funding. Often times, we really do feel like we should be providing patrons with the call numbers for the items they seek, along with a diagnosis, and a prescription for their sordid afflictions.

Now, to this mix of insanity, add parents who drop their children off at the library because they think it’s a “safe” place. A place where their children can learn, or play, or whatever as long as they don’t have to deal with them, and you have a bad situation that just got much much worse… A situation librarians deal with on a daily basis.


~ by Woeful on April 2, 2007.

7 Responses to “Librarians: Social Workers & Babysitters”

  1. “An aggressive patron in New Jersey successfully sued a public library for banning him because of his body odor. That decision has had a chilling effect on public libraries ever since.”

    That was an amazing quote…

  2. I worked at Salt Lake City Public Library as a shelver for a year before i went to library school~at least that gave me some idea of what working in a public library was like before hand (unlike many of my classmates)

  3. Mr Chubby:
    Yep, the smelly vagrant won the lawsuit and ever since, every library has been hesitant to take action against smelly people of all races, creeds, and religions whether they are gainfully employed or not. I shit you not.

    At least you were able to see what you were getting yourself into. I had some idea as well. Sadly, many freshly molded lib school grads haven’t a clue from the little emphasis they put on the subject in academia. Thinking about it, there should probably be an entire course related to dealing with vagrants, difficult patrons, and the elderly. Each of these groups presents its own special challenges… And frustrations.

    It can be called, “Patience & Fortitude 501”

  4. Dropped by the library here in Baton Rouge yesterday to pick up a few things. Realized I had a few items at home that were going to be late and so I had to come back later that afternoon. Both times there were people sleeping in their cars. The sleeper in the car later in the day had kids with her. They were just sitting there with nothing to do.

  5. Hi Joe, love the avatar! I’m not sure why people would be sleeping in their cars in the library parking lot, weird, especially with kids present. Some people come in and drop their kids off, picking them up hours later… I shudder to think about this, knowing our clientele, and the legality of leaving children unattended.

  6. Well I have worked in public libraries for over 40 years. Its a scary place and the fact is its getting worse every year.

  7. So what are we going to do about it, all is true and worse.

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