26 Sep 2017

Librarians asked to do more for homeless

From Checkpoint, 5:45 pm on 26 September 2017

Librarians are being asked to do more to make homeless people feel welcome.

The call has gone out at a librarians' conference in Christchurch, where a book club for the homeless hosted at the Auckland library has been held up as an example of what others should be doing.

While the homeless are a common sight at libraries around the country, so far only Auckland's main library has made a concerted effort to make them feel at home and consult them on what else it should be doing to meet their needs.

A person with no home address is unable to take books out, so the solution is provide a space for homeless people to leave their books overnight, so they can pick them up again on their next visit and continue their reading.

Auckland city public library

Auckland library has been used as an example for how homeless people should be made to feel welcome at libraries. Photo: Google Maps

A book club and a film night were also offered, along with a place for them to share their experiences of living on the streets via a blog.  

Library and Information Association president Louise LaHatte, would like to see libraries around the country follow Auckland's lead.

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Louise LaHatte Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

"Even if it's a response to making sure their staff are trained in understanding what the issues are, how to deal with people with compassion but also firmly in terms of mitigating any impact on other customers."

As a group they had as much right as anybody else to access libraries, she said.

She noted a number of them were well educated and well read and were not just looking for a warm place to spend the day.

"If there's behaviour that is unacceptable - and that may be because of drug use or mental health issues - then you deal with that behaviour.

"So, libraries do sometimes trespass people and some libraries do have security guards who can help de-escalate issues, but again it's about the behaviour and not who is doing it." 

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Matt Finch Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

A keynote speaker at the conference, Matt Finch from the State Library of Queensland said that in his hometown of Brisbane the library was popular as a place to keep cool in summer and there was nothing wrong with that.

"I went to a library in a shopping mall in Brisbane and it was on a sweaty sticky Saturday afternoon.

"There was a lady pushing her shopping trolley with stuff in it around the ground floor of the library, there were toddlers, there were kids reading comics, there were people doing research, there were people running small businesses.

"And what the librarians did was they kept an eye on the situation ... to make sure nobody was troubling anybody else, but [also to ensure] that no one felt that you're not welcome here, just because of who you are."

A homeless Christchurch man, Brad Edgeworth, said he mostly used the library for the internet and always felt welcome there.

"I just go on Facebook and to keep warm... they [librarians] are like happy chappy, hello"

Mike, another homeless man, said he would go to the library if it wasn't for his social phobia condition, but from what he had heard they were already doing a good job of catering to the needs of homeless people.

A Christchurch City Council spokesperson said it was looking closely at the work being done in Auckland.

The council hoped to implement many of its initiatives as part of its new $85 million central library due to open next year, the spokesperson said.