[Libs-Or] Library cards for homeless/those without permanent address

Abbie Anderson aanderson at cclsd.org
Mon Jul 9 17:00:23 PDT 2012

Chiming in at much too much length...

On a practical level: One of the best options is to issue a limited 
card to people who can't meet your residence standards, no matter the 
reason. Limit the number of items they can check out and possibly the 
types of items they can check out (say, 1 DVD or music CD at a time); 
prevent them from placing holds, prevent them from using your ILL 
service; make the card itself temporary, so that you ask for address 
verification again within a set period of time (maybe things will change 
for them!). When you have local agencies that provide mailing addresses 
for people they shelter, as they do in Multnomah and Eugene (hurray!), 
take advantage of that. Then track your statistics, and evaluate the 
policy. Are these limited cards causing you more losses than other 
cards? How much? Is that acceptable for your budget? Answer those 
questions, and keep offering the best access you can within your means.

On a philosophical level: Our mission is to provide access. But we have 
fiscal responsibility not only to the taxpayers and donors that fund us, 
but to our budgets. Some of us just can't afford the costs of lost 
materials and of staff time dealing with fines that may never be 
paid--and experience teaches us that those costs go up when we are 
trying to serve people in precarious situations.

Another side of it is that people whose lives right now preclude stable 
housing or income *also* can't afford library fines--and they are more 
likely to incur those fines because they have less control over items in 
their possession, their transportation, their schedule, and their 
physical health and safety. We are potentially making more trouble for 
them by issuing them library cards and letting them take things home 
that may not come back, or may not come back in time, or may come back 
damaged. It's just one more dimension to the cruelty of poverty, 
homelessness, domestic violence, developmental and mental health 
challenges, and addictions.

And *another* side is that fines represent a significant revenue stream 
for the library--revenue that is degraded by the amount of staff time 
required to deal with fines, particularly those that require pursuit. 
Fiscally, we don't want to accrue fines that don't get paid or take a 
lot of effort to get paid: it's not just lost revenue, it's extra costs 
from staff time.

Of course, library losses and fines also regularly occur with people 
who verified their addresses when they established their library 
accounts. People move; people lose their homes; people refuse or are 
unable to pay a fine; people are bad at managing library material and 
due-dates. This is another reason to analyze your statistics, and 
understand the full picture.

In Coos County, we don't allow my "best option" above. We have a policy 
that allows us to issue provisional library cards with limited 
circulation for people who have permanent addresses elsewhere, and also 
an address locally that accepts mail (like an RV park; some of our 
libraries also sometimes accept "General Delivery" as an address...). 
For people new to the area, or who have just moved, who can't verify 
their local address, at North Bend we give them a postcard and ask them 
to mail it to themselves at the address they just gave us. They can then 
bring the postcard back in as proof of deliverable address. We recently 
implemented a temporary card for people who have PO Boxes, but no proof 
of local street address.

We also have a controversial "Banned Addresses" list, at least for the 
two largest libraries in North Bend and Coos Bay. These are the local 
homeless shelters, temporary housing programs, and a Women's Resource 
and Safety Center. The Women's Center has several different housing 
locations, and rightly guards the actual locations of women staying with 
them. They also do not accept mail for the women in their programs. Our 
policy is to refuse library cards to people at those addresses, and to 
block cards of people who move to one of those addresses (and give us 
that address when updating their accounts). I wish it weren't so, but my 
Business Manager is very persuasive regarding how much time she has to 
spend on fines and losses associated with those addresses.

Bob is right that anyone can use materials in the building (and 
computers, depending on your policies). Many libraries also provide a 
"browsing" or "honor" collection of inexpensive and/or donated 
paperbacks and children's materials, as we do at North Bend. Anyone can 
take those items home without checking them out (we just ask them to 
tell us how many they took, for record-keeping). However, it seems that 
people in the most difficult circumstances seem to want primarily DVDs, 
and lots of them at a time--which we just can't do.

In Coos County, I would like to reexamine our policy, and issue very 
limited cards to people who can't verify any address: one item at a 
time, no holds, no ILLs. That way we would control potential losses, and 
a person in difficult circumstances would limit their own potential 
damages while also learning how using the library works for them.

One of my staff members told me that she sometimes wants to say to 
people, after wrangling with them for the umpteenth time about how the 
items didn't come back in time and how there are fines now (and 
listening to their variable stories about how the items really did come 
back or why they didn't come back in time or how they really shouldn't 
have to pay this), "Maybe the library is just not for you!" She has a 
point. Some people have a very hard time managing their library 
materials--and these are the people who *do* have verified addresses.

For what it's worth; your mileage may vary...

Abbie Anderson
Assistant Director
North Bend Public Library
Coos County Library Service District

On 07/09/2012 02:54 pm, Bob Jones wrote:
> Candise, I suspect your library's primary mission is to serve the
> faculty, staff, and students of your college, with limited, if any,
> service to the general public. That's as it should be, because your
> funding comes from your college.
> Likewise, my library's primary mission is to serve those who fund it,
> the taxpayers of Milton-Freewater and the Umatilla County Special
> Library District. Through reciprocal borrowing agreements we also
> serve the patrons of other libraries in the Sage Library System. If
> someone from outside that network comes in, they are free to use our
> books and other materials in the library. If, however, they wish to
> carry our materials away from the library, they need a card, just 
> like
> our local residents do. Because visitors are not paying taxes to make
> these materials available, our generous free service to them stops at
> the door. If they wish to borrow materials, there is an annual fee 
> for
> getting a library card, and they must present ID from an approved 
> list
> of acceptable items.
> Why? Because it would not be fair to our taxpayers to provide
> unlimited library services to those who pay no taxes to us. Because 
> my
> boss, the City Manager, expects me to take reasonable steps to ensure
> that materials which leave the building will return to it.
> If I go to the public library in Walla Walla or Boise or Dubuque
> should I expect them to loan books to me? No. Why not? Because they
> have the same responsibilities to their taxpayers and their local
> government that I have to mine. If they allow me to use materials
> within their building, and do it at no charge, isn't that 
> sufficiently
> generous? How much more should I expect from them?
> I'm sure that when a member of your college community checks out
> materials from your library, there is a penalty for failure to return
> them. If you failed to maintain control over your collection, your
> bosses would hold you responsible for the losses; if too many items
> were lost, you would be penalized or even fired.
> Homeless people also fall into a category of people who are not
> paying property taxes to support the library. In addition, they fall
> into a category of people who would be difficult or impossible to
> track down and hold responsible if they failed to return materials.
> Those are two good reasons to limit their use of library materials to
> within the confines of the library building. By doing so we are not
> denying them access to library materials; in fact we are generously
> allowing them use of a building and a collection they are not
> supporting with property tax dollars. What we are doing is exercising
> prudent control over a million dollars worth of materials for which 
> we
> are responsible by not allowing them to carry those materials away.
> I have compassion for homeless people, but I am not a social worker
> and the library is not a social service agency; I'm a librarian and
> the library is an educational institution. What I do for homeless
> people on my time is up to me, but what I do for them on the job as a
> city employee is limited by the ordinances and funding which govern
> the library.
> -----Original Message-----
>  FROM: Candise Branum [mailto:cbranum at ocom.edu]
>  SENT: Monday, July 09, 2012 10:43 AM
>  TO: Bob Jones
>  CC: Kirsten Brodbeck-Kenney; libs-or at listsmart.osl.state.or.us
>  SUBJECT: Re: [Libs-Or] Library cards for homeless/those without
> permanent address
> I have to respectfully disagree, Bob. I think our responsibility is
> to not just serve those who can pay for services, but to enrich the
> community at large. Especially in times of economic crisis, the 
> public
> library is one of the few places where people should have access to
> the resources that will allow them to enrich themselves. I think it 
> is
> great that you are exploring this issue, Kirsten. I don't have any
> suggestions for you, but I'd love to hear what you decide.
> Candise Branum, MLS
>  College Librarian
>  Oregon College of Oriental Medicine
>  10525 SE Cherry Blossom Drive
>  Portland, OR 97216
>  503-253-3443 ext.134 | www.library.ocom.edu [1]
> On Mon, Jul 9, 2012 at 10:28 AM, Bob Jones  wrote:
> Kirsten:
> This is an interesting question, because it's not simply "How do we
> serve everyone who wants service?".
> Most public libraries are supported primarily through property taxes.
> Therefore their primary responsibilities are:
> (1) Provide services to those who provide your funding, which would
> be property owners who pay taxes directly and renters who pay taxes
> indirectly through their property-owner landlords
> (2) Safeguard a large investment in public property (books,
> periodicals, videos, audio recordings, etc.) by having a way to track
> down and hold accountable borrowers who fail to return materials
> For these reasons, most libraries require library card applicants to
> show proof of residence in the city, county, or district which funds
> the library. In addition, there often are severe limits on first-time
> borrowers, who account for a high percentage of losses.
> Homeless people generally cannot provide documentation to verify
> residency. Likewise, some people who have resided in your service 
> area
> for years choose to not have any form of ID which you may require,
> such as a driver's license, DMV ID card, voter registration card,
> utility bill, etc. If you refuse to issue cards to one group, how can
> you justify serving the other (and this works in both directions)?
> If you want to have more lenient standards for homeless people and/or
> for people who choose to have no form of ID, how can you justify
> stricter standards for other people? That would be discriminatory. 
> But
> do you really want anyone who walks in the door to carry out anything
> they wish with no reasonable way to find them and hold them
> responsible for failure to bring stuff back in a timely manner? That
> would be irresponsible.
> I'd be interested in learning what you decide to do, and how you
> justify it.
> Bob Jones
> Library Director
> Milton-Freewater Public Library
> -----Original Message-----
>  FROM: libs-or-bounces at listsmart.osl.state.or.us [3]
> [mailto:libs-or-bounces at listsmart.osl.state.or.us [4]] ON BEHALF OF
> Kirsten Brodbeck-Kenney
>  SENT: Sunday, July 08, 2012 3:43 PM
>  TO: libs-or at listsmart.osl.state.or.us [5]
>  SUBJECT: [Libs-Or] Library cards for homeless/those without
> permanent address
> We're currently exploring ways to better serve our transient
> population here in Lincoln City. In the past we have worked out cards
> for individuals staying at a nearby domestic violence shelter, and we
> allow anyone to make use of our computers, but I would like to set up
> something more permanent and wide-ranging that would allow 
> individuals
> without a permanent address to better access library services.
> We have some ideas here on staff, but I would be very interested in
> hearing how other libraries have tackled this. What kinds of
> requirements do you have in order to obtain a card? Do cards for 
> those
> without permanent address have the same borrowing privileges, or
> modified privileges? Have you experienced a great deal of material
> loss, or no? I suspect I may have to work pretty hard to get 100%
> buy-in from my board and from staff, so any information you've got
> would be great!
> Kirsten Brodbeck-Kenney
>  Library Director
>  Driftwood Public Library
>  801 SW HWY 101, #201
>  Lincoln City, OR 97367
>  (541)996-1251 [6]
>  kbrodbeck-kenney at lincolncity.org [7]
>  _____________________________________________________
>  Libs-Or mailing list
>  Libs-Or at listsmart.osl.state.or.us [8]
>  http://listsmart.osl.state.or.us/mailman/listinfo/libs-or [9]
>  Hosted by the Oregon State Library. The Library is not responsible
> for content.
>  Questions related to message content should be directed to list
> owner(s) or the sender of the message, by phone or email.
>  Technical questions? Call 503-378-8800 [10].
> Links:
> ------
> [1] http://www.library.ocom.edu/
> [2] mailto:Bob.Jones at milton-freewater-or.gov
> [3] mailto:libs-or-bounces at listsmart.osl.state.or.us
> [4] mailto:libs-or-bounces at listsmart.osl.state.or.us
> [5] mailto:libs-or at listsmart.osl.state.or.us
> [6] http://mail.cclsd.org/tel:%28541%29996-1251
> [7] mailto:kbrodbeck-kenney at lincolncity.org
> [8] mailto:Libs-Or at listsmart.osl.state.or.us
> [9] http://listsmart.osl.state.or.us/mailman/listinfo/libs-or
> [10] http://mail.cclsd.org/tel:503-378-8800

Abbie Anderson
Assistant Director
North Bend Public Library

More information about the Libs-Or mailing list