Thursday, January 1, 2009

DC libraries waken controversy

There's a tough dance between being a good librarian, compassionate, progressive, inclusive in providing service -- and yet tough-minded and aware that we're always making choices about scarce resources.

Proposed Rules Would Ban Sleeping in Library

By Martin Weil and Elissa Silverman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, December 29, 2008; Page B03

New rules have been proposed for D.C. public libraries, including a ban on sleeping and a limit on bringing in bags, in what library officials called an effort to make the system more welcoming. [full story]

The coverage is in the Washington Post, but the more interesting story is in the online comments posted, which constitute a fascinating debate about the role of libraries and the problems of homelessness. Seems to be a polarizing issue.

Our approach to date at APL has been to evaluate situations on the extent to which they cause a problem and interfere with library use. The occasional (non-snoring) sleeper has not been a problem, someone passed out in a chair in an alcoholic haze with a booze bottle in his pocket is a problem. If all our chairs were occupied by sleepers it would be different, but where's the line? It's tempting to be black & white: "sleeping is forbidden!", but for now that seems more unjust -- if simpler -- than the more difficult gray of judgement calls.

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