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Do homeless people have legal privacy rights in our public libraries?

As long as we keep defining them as homeless they won’t according to two recent feature articles in Public Libraries: “Aiming High, Reaching Out, and Doing Good” and “Problems Associated with Mentally Ill Individuals in Public Libraries.” You can infer a lot about these articles given their titles. The first was written by a reference librarian, Linda Tashbook, the other by three mental health professionals, who advocate that mental health professionals should provide consulting services to public libraries. The librarian tells us that homeless people can be our best patrons considering their informational needs: law, justice, and citizenship, and that they, more than anyone, can appreciate the public library as a bastion of democracy. Tashbook writes, “Reaching out to prospective and present yet disconnected homeless patrons with legal information engages their interest and also helps to reduce their disenfranchisement; they can’t be completely distinct from society if a venerable institution like the library knows about the facts of their existence and acknowledges that they have legal rights applicable to that existence.” The mental health professionals state that there is a pandemic of problematic individuals threatening the future of public libraries, but they base their argument on faulty logic and a flawed survey. Their solution for libraries with homeless patrons is for them to “identify the 10 percent of problematic individuals and ensure they receive treatment for their psychiatric disorders. This can be done in a number of ways, including through the use assisted outpatient treatment (AOT), which requires such individuals to follow a treatment plan (including in some jurisdictions taking medication) as a condition for living in the community.” Since when is the library a place to keep the community out of? Wouldn’t that be taking the public out of public libraries?

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