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LIS 950: Libraries and community

The purpose of this seminar is to explore an important topic in library and information studies in depth — in all its intertwined historical, cultural, philosophical, and political aspects — through a graduate reading/discussion seminar. The topic varies each time the course is taught; this time around, we will focus on "libraries and community"

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Project proposal

The public library and the homeless between 1980’s and 1990’s

The American Library Association’s manual 61, ‘Library Services for Poor People,’ in 1990, codified the recognition of possible information inequity of the poor people and the importance of the public library service for them. The manual promised that the public libraries would help the poor to be responsible citizen in a democratic society, through their resources and services.

However, the Kreimer case against the Morristown public library in 1992 showed that some public library regulations, such as prohibiting library entrance of problematic patrons with bare feet or odor, blocked extremely poor people to the public libraries in practice. As the possibly far marginalized people, the homeless obviously belong to their community but their community may easily ignore the extreme poor.

According to the general notion of the public library mission, the homeless people technically deserve using the public library. However, the homeless people should follow social or institutional behavior codes, such as cloths, first, in order to use the public library and also accept the primary mission of the public library, ‘using information’. Personally, I think that it is not easy for the homeless people to follow the social or institutional behavior codes because they do not have any place to do. Furthermore, the information need that is assumed as the primary reason for the public library cannot be the primary for the homeless people. It may be secondary but not the primary. Obviously, they need certain places and the public library can be one of the places. What had the public library’s reaction been to the homeless people? This question is related to the public library’s understanding of their community.

In this study, I select two decades, 1980's and 1990's. The 1980’s was the time when the population of the homeless was increased and the U.S. government and academia, such as sociology and social work, recognized the importance of social issues on the homeless. The situation brought the public library’s attention to the homeless people in the 1980’s. In 1990’s, like the above two cases, the library fields had some important institutional experiences, such as the ALS manual 61 (Library Services for Poor People) in 1990, the Kreimer case in 1992, and establishing Hunger, Homelessness & Poverty Task Force, under Social Responsibilities Round Table of the American Library Association in 1996.

In this time period, this study will investigate the following questions in a certain area which is not decided yet but it can be a big city around Madison, Wisconsin. Also, I write possible primary resources for individual questions:
1. What had the public library understood the homeless as?
: Library organization or public library’s documents, such as mission statements or defining their patrons as well as scholarly research journals on the issue
2. What had the public library done for the homeless?
: Public library’s services for the homeless people and their regulations for their patrons as well as scholarly research journals on the issue.
3. What had the homeless used the public library for?
: Newspapers and scholarly research journals on the issue
4. What had the rest of community thought of the homeless in the public library?
: Newspapers and scholarly research journals on the issue.

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