I listened intently while the instructor in my collection management class spoke about the importance of library policies. Of course, one assignment required that we review policies. It was during this assignment that I really started to pay attention to how libraries articulate their goals, including what is allowed and what isn’t. All of this became more important one night while working at a public library as a page when I witnessed an incident I was uncomfortable with.
At the beginning of my shift I noticed a patron sitting at a table near the door to the operation room that I frequently enter and exit throughout my shift. This patron had several large duffle bags at his feet, which I recall as being new (I thought this was interesting). The other thing that stood out to me about this patron was their friendliness. Each time I entered or exited the room he gave me a nod and a smile. During my entire four-hour shift, I never once saw him get up. Nearer to the end of the day he suddenly seemed out of sorts. I was worried but was unsure what to do. I was discussing it with my co-worker, when we saw police enter the building. I exited the ops room and noticed two police officers yelling at the man, instructing for him not to move, asking him who he was, why he was there while they searched through his things. The patron continued to seem out of sorts while the officers demanded information from him, while they frisked his pants pockets. I was disturbed by the situation. Here is what I did.
- I brought the situation to the attention to my supervisor.
- I requested information about what lead up to the calling of the police. As far as anyone could tell, the patron had fallen asleep and fell out of his chair. Library management had called the non-emergency police line but that no longer exists after a certain hour in my small town. Because of this, the local and larger police force immediately dispatched officers.
- I requested clarification on policy. I specifically wanted to know if this was how patrons were to be treated, specifically those who appear to be homeless.
I was truly impressed by the response I was given. It was immediately clarified that the patron has more rights within the library than they do outside of it. Library policy supports that this patron, who was not loud and behaving erratically, should have had medical help offered rather than be treated as a criminal trespasser.
I am writing about this today as the snow is falling and temperatures have dropped below 30 degrees. What this means is that many of our libraries will see an increase in patrons who are homeless. I’ve shared before that I grew up in the foster care system. This means that when I see someone who is homeless, I think of the other kids I grew up with. And as odd as it seems, even with all the privileges I now have, I constantly deal with the fear and anxiety of having no home. As my therapist told me (and I wish I could cite this source but am having trouble finding it) the number one commonality between all women who are homeless is they spent time in the foster care system.
Please, check and clarify your library policies and know the rights of your patrons. If a situation arises that doesn’t seem right, make sure to clarify with management.