I don't usually brag about the gifts I receive, but forgive me - I have to. In the last two days, I have been given THREE flocks of chicks AND a beehive! The lovely and generous Kim gave me a flock of chicks, and co-workers gave me the others. What a lucky woman I am, to have friends who know how to make me happy and grateful.
Now. I rarely discuss library matters, but this one is bothering me. First, let me make a not-particularly-enlightened comment: As the atmosphere becomes thinner in your socioeconomic stratum, the services you need the most become harder to reach. Why?
Because bureaucracies are set up to facilitate their needs, not yours.
Take public libraries. I attended a meeting of, by, and for librarians a few days ago. These librarians, the coordinators of automated services for their libraries, began to discuss a question that was raised by a disgruntled-looking colleague: what do you do about homeless people who want library cards?
I expected, silly me, to hear compassionate workarounds for the usual "you need two pieces of i.d., one with a picture" routine. I did not (except for one librarian who said that her library sometimes offered a local-use-only card that allowed two pieces of library material at a time). Instead, I heard a discussion of a particular homeless person who has visited more than one library. Some say she lives in her car. Others say she takes a bus from town to town. Further, they say she's nasty. The general feeling was, she's not getting anything from us, sorry, nope. No address, not nice, forget it.
I'm an administrator. I understand the need to be able to reach a patron by mail - if that patron has overdue materials, we have to send notices, send bills, and send her to a collection agency. (Don't get me started on that one. )
I asked questions that attempted to show how we could help the patron to conform to our need. If she receives welfare, I said, she must have a place to pick up the check. That's an address, and we can accept it, right?
If she has a car, it's probably registered to an address, and we can use it, right?
I don't have The Answer to this. There may be no Answer. Obviously, we have to have some standard for offering the kind of access that requires an actual library card. I can, however, offer some facts.
1. Our library is owed many, many thousands of dollars (many!) in overdue materials and fines.
2. The scofflaws all qualified for library cards via the usual pathway, but that didn't stop them from ignoring their responsibility to the community.
3. Many of the scofflaws are nasty, especially when they receive a bill or a call from the collection agency, but that doesn't stop us from giving them library cards.
You may say I'm a dreamer. Maybe it's preposterous of me to think that homeless citizens would be no different from the rest of us in how they treated library materials. Maybe my child-of-the-sixties self is getting in the way of reality in 2006, since I still believe "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need."
Or, maybe it's just that having read A Christmas Carol (for KTC) makes me imagine public libraries dragging around a version of Jacob Marley's chains composed of shelves of books that remain forever beyond the grasp of the needy.
Oh well. God bless us every one.