Is Homelessness a Public Library Problem?

My current public library job is in an area known as south central King County, where many individuals experience the challenge of homelessness. Official counts cite Seattle and the King County area as having the third highest population of homeless people in the country (as of 2017, the last official census count).

And we experience that reality in the libraries where I work.

What does that mean? It means that people sleep outside of the library doors in anticipation of opening. That there are uncomfortable bodily smells (of varying intensities) throughout the library. It means that people come in laden with bags and carts and animals, which take up extra chairs, tables, and computer space. That often the root of homelessness is connected with mental illness and/or addiction, and this means behavioral issues in libraries are not uncommon.

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Houston Public Library Sued Over Drag Queen Story Hour

The Houston Chronicle recently reported that a group of activists (who refer to themselves as “Christ Followers”) rallied outside the federal courthouse the afternoon of October 19th, making the announcement that they are suing the Houston Public Library. For what? For violating their freedom of religion by hosting the city-sponsored Drag Queen Story Hour program.

Per the article:

The library director and Mayor Sylvester Turner are named as defendants, accused of being recklessly entangled in “LGBT doctrine.” The lawsuit says the storytelling sessions advertised as appropriate for patrons of all ages at the Freed-Montrose Neighborhood branch should not be funded with taxpayer dollars since the library would not host a “man-woman marriage storytelling hour.”

First, I want to emphatically make the point that I think it’s important that everyone has a venue through which they can express themselves, especially in regards to the work public institutions like libraries are engaged in doing. These card-carrying library patrons do not approve of this particular program on a very fundamental level and I agree with their right to speak up about that disapproval. I come from a very conservative family, so I can emphasize with the perspective that the moral “other” are forcing the spread of their agenda through government programs.

In worldviews that endorse a specific and absolute  moral narrative, it can be difficult to appreciate that vital to a public library’s purpose is welcoming multiple perspectives and moral narratives. Literally, the most fundamental concept of a public library is diversity – imagine visiting a public library with only one book on the shelf, or with all books by only one author.  Different authors, different books, different ideas, different voices. The theme for this year’s Banned Book Week was “Banning Books Silences Stories.” The same individuals who do not approve of the Draq Queen Story Hour program probably do not approve of the content in MANY of the books that their tax money is also used to purchase for the library shelf. Quite frankly,  I know I personally do not approve of books at the library! But I have appreciation for the idea that public libraries are intended to represent the larger human experience – much, much more than my narrow slice of life. The presence of materials I object to in this tax-funded space do not signify my personal endorsement of those materials – only my stake in the mission of the public library as a whole.

Second, – setting aside ideologies and discussing this situation specifically – I am curious what this group’s understanding of drag culture is. Specifically, if they understand that not all drag queens are gay? Equating Drag Queen Story Hour program to a “man-woman marriage storytelling hour,” I can’t help but wonder if the lawsuit was as confused…

Overall, it will be interesting to see what happens to this case in the courts and how that reflects on Houston’s library programs. I can’t imagine that the case will make it to trial, but I hope that perhaps it inspires the Houston Library to sponsor educational events to help the public better understand drag culture itself (any culture that is unfamiliar can seem intimidating and scary, especially one with a long history of negative stereotypes and bias) to supplement the fun of experiencing drag performance during Drag Queen Story Hour program.

Some Interesting Library-Related Stories This Summer

Being a future librarian, I can’t help the impulse to index and collect! Here’s some interesting library-related (and information-related, since the two go hand-in-hand) things that I saw in the news this summer I want to save for future reference…

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Summer Reading Program

Working for a library this year has meant my first exposure to one of the biggest library events of the year, the Summer Reading Program (SRP for short)! Librarians work on these programs for MONTHS. Many library systems participate in the Collaborative Summer Library Program, including the library system where I work (the King County Library System, or KCLS). This means that the themes for summer reading programs are often the same across the country.

The theme this year was “Libraries Rock!” and the reading charts my system used embraced a retro interpretation with cassette tapes, vinyl records, and boom boxes. Even before the summer program began, I was excited to be participating on the peripheral from my role in circulation (I’m a Library Technical Assistant, which means I check out books, help patrons, and manage circulation tasks – I act to support library programs, but no work related to the building and developing of those programs). Listening to the librarians it sounds like all their planning and preparation left them exhausted by the time the program actually started. And, now that it’s all over? Relief!

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My favorite reading log design, although the elementary-aged children for whom it was designed probably weren’t able to appreciate the nostalgia of an unwinding cassette tape.

This year was a stand-out year (at least, I was told it was) for two reasons:

First, KCLS was offering a summer reading program for adults, which they did not do last year (in the years prior, I am unsure).

Second, the halfway finishing prize (for all age levels) had a pretty significant monetary value: two free tickets (per patron) to a popular local water park called Wild Waves. For an adult, these tickets are worth over $30.00 each (so two are potentially worth over $60.00). To participate and receive two free tickets, all someone had to do was bring in one of the tear-off coupons from a reading log stating that they were eligible for the prize. No registration, no showing identification, not even a requirement of proof that the individual possessed a library card – literally, just handing in a coupon from a reading log freely available in any KCLS library. Unfortunately, this “honor” system created an opportunity for the program to be exploited for valuable free tickets – and it was.

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End of my first quarter!

Well, I did it! Somehow, despite how terrified of online classes I secretly was (I did an online class back in my BYU days, circa 2008ish, that didn’t  instill much confidence in that format), I got through my first quarter and I actually feel really good about how well it went (I got As in both classes!).

I even got the chance to create some artwork for an assignment, which made me feel even happier. After all, any excuse to create art 😉

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[ I modeled this display space after an actual shelf I saw in my local library, although the display itself and book selection here are my own ideas ]
My classes were Research Design (basically, an introduction to reading and writing research papers) and Resources for Digital-Age Children (a children’s literature introductory course, I really enjoyed it and all the children’s books I got to read as part of the coursework).

And this is only the beginning…

Banned Book Week 2016, September 25th -October 1st

From the American Library Association website :

Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Typically held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community; librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types, in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.

By focusing on efforts across the country to remove or restrict access to books, Banned Books Week draws national attention to the harms of censorship.

I have a librarian friend in Texas who has posted pictures of what she and her fellow librarians have put together for their patrons to raise awareness and celebrate this week, which has made me curious to see what libraries in my area are doing for this event.

VISIT TO KENT PUBLIC LIBRARY ON 9/27

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Snapped as I walked down the sidewalk.

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My Orientation Session at the University of Washington for the MLIS Degree!

I’ve had a pretty incredible life journey that’s brought me to where I am with my career goals and ideas about education. Being accepted to the University of Washington’s Masters of Library and Information Science (MLIS) online program was one of the happiest moments of my life – to feel I had finally found an amazing career fit and having that feeling confirmed and encouraged by being accepted into the program was incredible.

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[ A picture I took at the Suzzallo Library on UW campus ]

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