From the Director - March/April 2013
Our Main Library has a fantastic reputation, abroad as well as right here at home. Its contemporary architecture, green-tinted windows and trees growing inside the building, make it a landmark for downtown Columbia. The Main Library alone sees more than 1 million visits a year and more than 36% of all print books checked out in our library system come from this one facility. Each year, more than 20,000 children and families enjoy our world-class Children’s Room programs and top notch customer service. Since it opened a little over two and a half years ago, our Business and Job Center staff have worked with more than 30,000 people to provide one on one assistance with job and career support. The music and movies in our collection are outstanding, and people check out more than two million nonprint resources a year.
Yet among some residents, the impression of Main is not a positive one. When I tell people where I work, it breaks my heart when they say “I don’t use that library. There are too many homeless people there.” There was a time where these remarks made me want to defend my library. Now I find myself wanting to defend the homeless. When I get the opportunity to listen to people talk about their concerns with homeless people in the library, I’m trying really hard to discern what the real issues are.
Are they afraid for their safety? If that’s the case, their fears are unfounded. In January 2013 alone, we had more than 87,000 visits at Main and asked only 171 customers to leave because they wouldn’t abide by our Code of Conduct. There were no violent incidents, the most serious was a customer disgruntled over computer usage.
I know it doesn’t always feel comfortable to be around people who aren’t like you. We’ve come a long way in the history of our country in understanding that just because someone doesn’t look or behave like you, doesn’t make them dangerous or less of a person. Public libraries pride themselves on providing access to information that represents diverse opinions and viewpoints. Serving the homeless is a part of the fabric of what we do – just like addressing early literacy and workforce development. I know there will continue to be many opinions on homeless people using the library. We will continue to assert that homeless have a right to be in the library, to use the services as long as, like everyone else, they follow our rules. We have a well trained staff and a team of safety and security officers who enforce those rules every day to ensure the library experience is a good one for all visitors.
Are there homeless people at Main? Certainly. Are there homeless people in your local coffee shop or even homeless children in your child’s classroom? Yes. Homelessness isn’t a library problem; it’s a community problem. And I am proud that the library is a vital part of a community that has made great strides in making sure that the homeless who want to make their lives better, can.
Melanie Huggins | Executive Director
► More about Homelessness in Richland County
I just finished: The Dry Grass of August by A.J. Mayhew
I’m just starting: How Music Works by David Byrne
I can’t stop listening to: From the Ground Up by John Fullbright
You don’t want to miss: For the Spell of It: A Spelling Bee at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 26 at Richland Library Main