Category Archives: Government

Homelessness Away From Home

I started this blog post intending to exclusively write about how libraries can partnership with government institutions to both help the homeless population as well as reduce the homeless population. Libraries have both a need and the means to help the homeless, and shelters are usually run by city and county governments, so I figured there must be some interesting collaboration between the two, right?

…and there is some interesting collaboration, for example:

The San Francisco Public Library works with the city’s Department of Public Health (and the San Francisco Full-Integrated Recovery Services Team) to offer a verity of services to its homeless patrons. They have a full time social-worker on staff (currently Leah Esguerra), paid for by the SF Department of Health. She works to make sure that the library has programs that are helpful to the homeless, and well as helping the homeless interact with the other library patrons better. Perhaps the most successful program they have is hiring formerly homeless people as “health and safety associates”. These associates help monitor the homeless patrons of the library, but also provide advice and peer counselling.

The Queens Library of New York and the Denver Public Library both work with their respective city’s Departments of Education to sponsor outreach programs to various homeless. The idea being that, no matter how good a library’s services are, they’re not helping people unless the people know about them. The QL sends their teen librarian to shelters and other “precarious housing” environments to talk to teens and parents about the services they offer, such as computer access, educational assistance, and vocational help. The DPL sends staff to talk to a local shelter for homeless and low-income women, again talk about library services but also to help them become acquainted with technology. At the end of the talk they distribute bus tokens so the women can more conveniently get to the library.

…but there seems to be even more collaboration between libraries and non-government groups to help the homeless, such as:

A fairly recent project (dedication ceremony was this September) is the Jean Rice Homeless Liberation Referance Library in the Bronx, New York. It’s a modest library organized by Picture the Homeless, staffed by volunteers and containing mostly donated books. Its goals are not to provide charity, but to give homeless people the tools to help themselves.

The H.O.M.E. Page Café operates out of the Free Library of Philidelpha. It looks like a fairly traditional library café, but it makes it a point to hire former homeless people, and to provide them a living wage and the help they need to transition back into more mainstream society.

Several libraries have had luck starting book clubs for the homeless, such as the Traverse Area District Library and the Cleveland Public Library. The TADL partnered with Safe Harbor (a faith based shelter organization) while the CPL partnered with the Care Alliance Health Center to contact the homeless. Both of these programs have since ended, but libraries at both libraries found the experience useful to get to know their respective homeless populations better.

For further information, the American Library Association has some excellent resources on the subject:

Stephen M. Lilienthal wrote a pretty good article for The Library Journal as well:


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Taxes & Death

When the federal government wants to reach out to a community, they have numerous options. They can make a public address via television (or radio, I guess), but the nation has a short attention span for this sort of thing; good for when the government has a vital need to get some information out there, but not too much information. They can put stuff online, but then people need to be interested enough in that information to access it, and not everyone has ready access to online; useful when there’s a lot of information, but the need for it isn’t urgent.

Most regions have some sort of federal building or offices where the government can put literature and informed personal, but most people don’t end up visiting federal buildings very often. If the feds want to make information available to people, they need to use a community center that people access on a regular basis. Ideally one with more of a friendly face, and already staffed with informed personal. In short, they need a library.

The most obvious example of this is tax forms and information. Traditionally, box after box of forms and instruction booklets being sent out to public libraries each January, to be put in bins and set on tables for the public to access. Libraries weren’t the only place to get these forms; a lot of people got them in the mail and there were other distribution centers (such as the post office), but libraries were still an important cog in the machine to get tax money into the hands of the IRS (and state and city governments, for that matter).

Now-a-days, all these forms can be gotten online, and some of them can only be found online. This actually makes libraries an even more vital part of the process; people on the wrong side of the digital divide still need access to these forms (and most post offices don’t provide internet access).

Death (or lack thereof)
Lately, the more newsworthy example of this sort of thing is information pertaining to the Affordable Care Act, affectionately (or not so affectionately) known as Obamacare. The ACA is over 900 pages long, so a lot of people haven’t gotten around to reading it yet. There’s a lot of information floating around out there, but there’s a lot of misinformation as well, and the offical channels are still suffering from some technical difficulties.

Luckily, the nation’s various libraries are there to fill in the gaps and provide information about the ACA. Furthermore, people are expected to sign up through the webportal, which the digitally disadvantaged are expected to access through organizations like public libraries.

The American Library Association put together a nice overview and list of resources:

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