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US libraries welcome rough sleepers

February 10 2010
Facilities revamped to ensure everyone has right to access of information

A number of American libraries are embracing the homeless by hosting social service agencies, providing IT tutors and even redesigning their facilities to make them friendlier to those on the streets.

In San Francisco, where the downtown library has a full-time social worker, city librarian Luis Herrera told USA Today: "Libraries are becoming our community living rooms".

Although libraries can enforce "reasonable rules", the federal court decided in 1992 that the First Amendment allowed everyone the right of access to information. And across the country there has been a growing trend in libraries doing more to accommodate homeless users. The homeless "go to libraries because they do not have anywhere else to go, and that is a shame," Audra Caplan, president of the Public Library Association, told USA Today.

So instead of trying to put homeless users off using libraries, an increasing number of libraries have begun welcoming them, with the Central Library in Madison, Wisconsin, even rearranging its seating and moving bathrooms in a bid to make its facilities more comfortable for the homeless. The move is part of a $29.5 million (£18.4m) redesign which will see the needs of those users who live on the streets as key to the renovation.

Councils in London said that although the trend was interesting, there were no plans to replicate them in the capital. A spokesman for Westminster Council told The Pavement: "Rough sleepers are, of course, welcome to use our libraries, but they are clearly not equipped or suited to host social services.

"We also have no plans to turn them into community living rooms for rough sleepers, many of whom have complex needs. We are, however, committed to helping people off the streets and have an extensive range of services to help long-term rough sleepers back towards independent living."