Sleyko 1 Poverty and Changing Library Models Katie Sleyko LIS 771 Spring 2010 April 29, 2010
Sleyko 2 Poverty, while depressingly prevalent in the best of times, has worsened and deepenedbecause of our country’s recession. We as librarians can serve these populations better, and itis in our own interest to do so. Though traditional models have helped in bringing some of thepoor to the library, the model for librarianship assumes a patron of the middle-class, inlocation choices, creation of fines and the imposing of residency restrictions on library cardusage. In serving poor and homeless patrons, perhaps the best solution is to change the waythe library itself is run, rather than expect conformity to a model not designed for them. Eleven percent of all households in the United States don’t have food security; that is,they don’t know where their next meal is coming from. 1 One out of five children is poor,which the United States defines as not having enough money for either clothing, food, orshelter.2 Most of the poor are white and non-Hispanic, though the rates of poverty for theblack and latino/a populations are disproportionate—23% of latinos/as and 27% of blacks arepoor.3 Poverty also correlates highly with low literacy, as well as riches correlating to highliteracy.4 Those with lower literacy, when they have jobs, tend to get menial jobs.5 Those in poor neighborhoods do not tend to vote. There are two major reasons for this:the high population of felons who are poor, and who have had their voting rights strippedfrom them; and the absence of political engagement within poor communities. 6 This absenceof a political voice in these communities leads to their needs being ignored and their needs forfunding unanswered, which in turn deepens poverty and the ability to get one’s voice heard.1 (Household Food Security in the United States, 2007 2008)2 (Frequently Asked Questions Related to the Poverty Guidelines and Poverty 2010)3 (Poverty: 2008 Highlights 2009)4 (National Center for Educational Statistics 2002)5 (National Center for Educational Statistics 2002)6 (Gimpel 2004)
Sleyko 3 Even with all these statistics, there may be questions as to why librarians shouldbother to help the poor in their neighborhoods, let alone start changing library models. First,the population is one that needs serving, and which continues to be underserved. The ALArequires that librarians serve all library users to the best of their ability. In serving the poor,librarians as a whole also help one-quarter of the black and latin@ population, fulfilling thecommitment to diversity that the ALA requires.7 In helping the poor by improving literacy forthe impoverished, earning power and information access increase for an entire community.Encouraging voting or upping chances to get involved politically can add huge numbers ofvotes and backing to several projects, including voting for increased library funding. Even with all these needs to serve the poor as outlined by the ALA, actual service tothe poor has been a sticking point, enough so that it has its own site—The Hunger,Homelessness, and Poverty Task Force, or www.hhptf.org. The website itself is notparticularly forthcoming on any issue in particular, but the links speak volumes. These linksseem not to have been updated since 2006; there are many dead links within the website, andno link to a document leads to a document written later than 2006. The Hunger, Homelessness, and Poverty Task Force website links to criticisms aboutthe ALA itself and the hypocritical stance of many libraries dealing with the poor and thehomeless. Some libraries have “smell rules:” policies where patrons must not smell stronglyin order to use the library.8, 9 These are intended to keep out unwashed patrons, but must beapplied, if applied fairly, to people who use too much perfume or cologne, or mountain bikerscoming into the library for a drink. There is also documentation of libraries’ hesitation to help7 (ALA Council 2010)8 (Berman, Classism in the Stacks: Libraries and Poor People 2006)9 (Stir Raised by Dallas Body-Odor Rule 2006)
Sleyko 4the poor as libraries. The poor and the homeless are cited in other literature as feeling that thelibrary is actively hostile to them.10 There has been some progress has been made in this area,including the creation of the Hunger, Homelessness, and Poverty Task Force, and acoinciding Poor People’s Policy, meant to be put on posters and hung in prominent places inlibraries with poor populations. But the little attention paid to the site, including the deadlinks, and the little attention it gets from the library establishment, as evinced both from theseparate URL that separates it from the main ALA site and the ALA website burying its linkin a larger roundtable collection, says very clearly that the conventional approach to povertyand helping the poor is in need of a workout. The way to work out how to serve poor library patrons better is to find out what it isthat keeps people out of the library. It is easy to see, for example, how late fees would bereviled and avoided by poor and homeless patrons, especially if their transportation is limited.If one works many hours a week, and the bus route to get to the library stops just after oneleaves work unless it’s a weekend route, returning a book late to the library may be the onlyoption. The ways that libraries are placed in a neighborhood reveals assumptions of everyoneusing the library driving their own car, especially in a suburban setting. If a library is neitheron nor close to a bus route, many people who cannot afford a car may never see the inside ofthe library. The need to establish residence in the area to get a library card means thathomeless or transient populations, like migrant workers, may never check out books. Theseassumptions tend to be self-fulfilling, so it is little surprise when libraries, designed to bring inmiddle-class patrons and thus full of them, find that the poor and the homeless find themhostile.10 (Robertson 2010)
Sleyko 5 To bring in more poor and homeless patrons, we must change the way we operate.This is not to say that we must abandon the idea of the library as the center for information.But we must also realize that when a patron is poor, there are huge environmental andphysical challenges that can affect the ways that patrons get to and access that information.11Easing the burden of getting to and processing that information—for example, lobbying buscompanies to change routes to be closer to the library, or finding and providing healthful foodif a library is located in a food desert—improves the function, use, and esteem of the library inlight of poor patrons. One way to improve library use and esteem is to make the library unavoidable. Thereis an interesting experiment going on in Florida with the use of a “front-porch library,” alibrary located in the home of a librarian.12 The creator of this concept, Adrian Fogelin, livedin an economically depressed area and knew that getting to an “official” library would benigh-impossible for poor children. The original front porch library is run with donated books,so if a book goes missing, there is no financial loss to recoup, plus the patron now has a bookof their own. This encourages many checkouts from the poor children, which may neverhappen with a poor person in a traditional public library. Fogelin also points out how shetrains children in how to use the library; she demonstrates to children how she records downtheir name and the books she checks out to them and keeps them in a file. She also getschildren to volunteer for the library, who then learn about collection organization andenforcing library rules.11 (Evans 2009)12 (Fogelin 2009)
Sleyko 6 Though this particular library is aimed at children and is located within a home, thiseasily could be made into an adult library located in a home bought expressly for this purpose.Adult versions of the front porch library could be easily made with books weeded from thecollection in main branches of public libraries, especially with the multiple copies of eachseason’s bestsellers that are inevitably ordered and weeded by large libraries, as well asdonations. Additionally, using foreclosed or abandoned properties in neighborhoods as frontporch libraries can help “beautify” or give the appearance of safety and normality in themuch-maligned and avoided poor neighborhoods of a city, and perhaps give a needed publicspace in areas where public parks may be unthinkable. Another example of a new way of delivering library service is in the creation of librarygardens. In the GreenLeaves project in New York state, the garden serves as a way for non-violent criminal offenders to do community service.13 These convicts go into libraries whichhave never had gardens and create them in the empty lot space that the library doesn’t use.This results in urban libraries becoming oases in the communities they are located in, whichare overwhelmingly poor and without green spaces. More people want to use the library,those that don’t view it as a benefit to the community, and the convicts have become mentorsto the community’s children. These applications certainly are valuable, but the article doesn’tmention how library gardens, if used for food plants, could help alleviate food deserts, placeswhere there are no grocery stores or otherwise out of reach, such as healthful food beingpriced far beyond its value. The library’s man purpose in the community, being the place tolocate information, doesn’t have to be usurped by this event; the library could distribute thefood to volunteers or on a first-come first-served basis.13 (Kuzyk 2007)
Sleyko 7 There are other services coming to the fore which fight food deserts. A program inBaltimore is starting where library patrons order groceries the same way they check out booksremotely—through the online library website.14 This program helps relieve the food desertaround the library and may eventually convince grocery stores that they would be patronizedwell. Since the library is already a part of the community, food stores risk nothing by shippinggroceries there, as they would if they built a location that was rarely patronized or vandalized.The library, in turn, becomes a food source as well as a public place, and the communitybecomes invested emotionally in its success. This program is being funded by federalstimulus money, but grants could be pursued for the long term. In order to truly serve patrons, librarians must also address the selective politicizationat work within the public library. Many librarians feel that refusing to cooperate with thePATRIOT Act is not a particularly political move, nor is petitioning local governments formore funds for the public library. The PATRIOT Act does nothing to hinder libraries’function; it only specifies the desire to see patron records on demand. Though there was somefuror over the refusal to cooperate, the refusal to share patron information is seen as soapolitical, so basic to the function of the library, that even the ALA opposes it.15 Yet it is notroutine, nor seen as apolitical, to stand up to city councils for grocery stores, equitablehousing and adequate shelters for the homeless, though these have as much to do with patronquality of life as the protection of patron records, and these policies would benefit the librarymuch more directly. Standing up for patrons in one area—the protection of their records—andnot in others that would help them use and eventually fund the library—making them14 (Owens 2010)15 (ALA Council 2003)
Sleyko 8homeowners, payers of local sales tax and clean job-seekers—does a disservice to poorpatrons and makes clear our biases as librarians. Lobbying for patrons, instead of urging patrons to lobby for us, can work in getting thecommunity invested in the project of the library. There is also the direct approach: givingusers a forum to form and debate political views. Called civic librarianship, the trend ofmaking the library a hub for local, regional and national politics can have a deep effect on thepolitical involvement and representation of a community.16 Under programs as prescribed incivic librarianship, such as bringing in local politicians to discuss policies and decisions,lecture series on hot-button issues, and reaching out to other public programs in the area, suchas public radio stations and museums, can bring a community together and empower them asvoters and citizens in making choices that will serve them best. Politically represented poorpeople are politically powerful poor people, who can create stronger communities, receiveappropriate funding, and also vote library budgets into law. It is in libraries’ own best intereststo see that their poor populations are politically involved, as it can create a loyal voter base foryears to come. Though libraries can help build strong communities for the poor and the homelesssurrounding them, sometimes these communities can come into being on their own. Dignityvillage is a community of homeless that has private housing, communal restrooms andkitchens, and its own website. This place in Portland, Oregon started as a tent city and hassince grown into a permanent residence for about 60 homeless people. Even with thiscommunity, they find that public libraries don’t want them, incorporating the libraries’16 (Kranich 2005)
Sleyko 9rejection of them into their mission statement.17 Yet this community is a great example ofcreating appropriate places for the homeless through public action. If the libraries in the areabecame allies of the village, the potential for civic engagement on the part of the villagers,and the signal boost for the library from the patronage of the villagers, could be beneficial tothe whole area. More campgrounds such as these could be built, less transient or victimizedhomeless people, more poor library patrons who feel that the library is no longer hostile, andmore residents of the area who want to see their library thrive. Instead, we see wastedpotential; a group that has come to have local political power who discount the library assomewhere they are not welcome. Library models, as they stand now, do give great service to those who have a middle-class life: access to outside transportation, extra money to pay late fees, a permanent residencefor access to library cards and close familial relationship and parental permission for minorsto take out books. But the model can be changed to serve the poor better without upending thecentury-long mission of the public library of providing information access to all residents. Wecan make the library unavoidable, placing front porch libraries in underserved neighborhoods.We can provide food to places without it. We can get people involved in the project of thelibrary by making them informed, engrossed citizens.17 (Why a need for a "tent city" n.d.)
Sleyko 10This bibliography has been put together using MS Word Auto-Citations.BibliographyALA Council. "ALA Policy Manual ." ALA.org. 2010.http://www.ala.org/ala/aboutala/governance/policymanual/index.cfm#S2-40%20Core%20Values%20and%20Ethics (accessed April 29, 2010).—. "Resolution on the USA Patriot Act and Related Measures That Infringe on the Rights of LibraryUsers." ALA.org. 2003.http://www.ala.org/template.cfm?section=ifresolutions&template=/contentmanagement/contentdisplay.cfm&contentid=11891 (accessed April 29, 2010).Berman, Sanford. "A Long Struggle to Force Libraries to Serve the Poor." Street Spirit, January 2001:12-13.—. "Classism in the Stacks: Libraries and Poor People." Street Spirit, February 2006.Evans, Gary W. and Michelle A. Schamberg. "Childhood poverty, chronic stress, and adult workingmemory." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106, no. 13 (March 2009).Fogelin, Adrian, Katherine Bowers, and Kary S.Kublin. "The Front Porch Library: Bringing the Libraryto the Neighborhood." Florida Libraries 52, no. 2 (2009): 20-22."Frequently Asked Questions Related to the Poverty Guidelines and Poverty ." U.S. Department ofHealth and Human Services. January 25, 2010. http://aspe.hhs.gov/poverty/faq.shtml (accessed April29, 2010).Gimpel, James G., Joshua J. Dyck and Daron R. Shaw. "Registrants, Voters, and Turnout Variabilityacross Neighborhoods." Political Behavior 26, no. 4 (December 2004): 343-375.Gimpel, James G., Joshua J. Dyck and Daron R. Shaw. "Registrants, Voters, and Turnout Variabilityacross Neighborhoods." Political Behavior 26, no. 4 (December 2004): 343-375."Household Food Security in the United States, 2007." Economic Research Service. November 17,2008. http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/err66/ (accessed April 29, 2010).Kranich, Nancy. "Civic Partnerships: The Role of Libraries in Promoting Civic Engagement ." ResourceSharing & Information Networks 18, no. 1-2 (2005): 89-103.Kuzyk, Raya. "Learning Gardens: New Yorks GreenBranches Program Links the Library to the Street."Library Journa 132, no. 17 (2007): 40-43.National Center for Educational Statistics. Adult Literacy in America. Study Report, Washington D.C.:Government Printing Office, 2002.
Sleyko 11Owens, Donna Marie. "Check It Out: Get Your Groceries At The Library." NPR.org. April 26, 2010.http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=126282239 (accessed April 29, 2010)."Poverty: 2008 Highlights." US Census Bureau. September 29, 2009.http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty/poverty08/pov08hi.html (accessed April 29, 2010).Robertson, Guy. "What Goes Down: Library Experiences of the Urban Poor." Feliciter (CanadianLibrary Association) 56, no. 1 (2010): 4."Stir Raised by Dallas Body-Odor Rule." American Libraries 37, no. 2 (February 2006): 1/3."Why a need for a "tent city" ." Dignity Village .http://www.dignityvillage.org/content/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=37 (accessedApril 29, 2010).