Homelessness Report 2014

Sanctuary of Mind: Public Libraries and Homelessness Report

Homelessness is an issue of society at large, but it has a disproportionate impact on public libraries. Many library supporters grapple with a problem that they feel is not of the library’s making and should not be its responsibility. Even the most compassionate librarians and library patrons have sometimes found themselves at a loss to handle certain encounters with homeless individuals in the public library.

The MLK Library Friends – a group of library volunteers and advocates – hosted a half- day conference to help the DC Public Library explore solutions to the dilemmas posed for the city’s central library – Martin Luther King, Jr, Memorial – by homelessness in the District of Columbia.

The session was convened in conjunction with planning for renovation of the MLK Library building, an historic landmark, and was held on Thursday June 26, 2014 at the Carnegie Institution for Science.

Civic, religious, non-profit and District agency leaders were invited to discuss their challenges and aspirations. The program was also informed by on-the-ground perspectives of DC Public Library professionals, including new Executive Director Richard Reyes-Gavilon, whose presence and participation was greatly appreciated. In addition, the MLK Library Friends presented a brief slide show of ideas gathered from other library systems.

The conference, free and open to the public, included an after-session lunch at which discussions continued. The ideas and suggestions that arose from the lunchtime conversations were also incorporated in this Report.

The MLK Library Friends hope these ideas for library-based solutions will provide a starting point for meaningful exploration as part of design development for the renovation of the MLK Library. The Friends anticipate and welcome all discussion of this report. We expect to continue the conversation through the establishment of a committee to work with the DC Public Library on an on-ongoing basis.

Robin Diener
President, MLK Library Friends
September 8, 2014

Sanctuary of Mind: Public Libraries and Homelessness Report

Dr. King in DC: A Community Conversation – Report from MLKLF

The MLK Library Friends commend DCPL for organizing and presenting the MLK “legacy” discussion program on November 4, with distinguished participants Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, Howard Dodson, and Kerrie Cotton Williams among others.A range of programming ideas were mentioned.

We noted, however, that no ideas were expressed for the physical library building and the opportunity afforded by the renovation. Here are two ideas for the physical building MLKLF has come across:

1) David Edwards of Ward 8 proposed that a bridge be installed, reminiscent of the infamous bridge in Selma. While the bridge would reference an actual physical landmark in Dr. King’s life and the civil rights movement, this bridge could also stand for the role of the library in making available literature and information that develops empathy for “the other,” that bridges cultures, and that ultimately may create a world of greater understanding, through compassion and love, as Dr. King taught.

In similar metaphorical terms, currently, libraries are hailed for “bridging the digital divide.” Certainly, children will enjoy climbing on a bridge, perhaps making the library more of a destination for them. And one can imagine a meme taking root among idealistic teenagers, and others, of linking arms and crossing the bridge together in solidarity for a cause or inspiration or to mark an event. Such a meme could put MLK Library even more strongly “on the map.”

The exact location of a bridge on the library property requires thought. Mr. Edwards suggested the front of the library building but it might also be appropriate outside the proposed new café, or inside the library in the lobby or Great Hall, or on the roof. Although this idea was posted on the MLK Ideascale, and Mr. Edwards has attended several community meetings to propose it, we are not aware of further discussion about it and DCPL has not reported on it.

2) Robert Thomasson of Ward 2 has suggested creating a small, chapel-like room for study and contemplation that would hold a collection of the great works of literature, philosophy and religion referred to in Dr. King’s speeches. Many of the speeches were recorded and could be made available to watch interactively through images that could appear on the walls or on individual computer screens. The complete collection of Dr. King’s personal library of 1100 volumes is housed at Morehouse College http://www.morehouse.edu/kingcollection/index.php

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