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Balancing Inclusion and Safety in Libraries

The University of Illinois’ News Bureau recently interviewed Barry Ackerson, associate dean and director of the master’s program in the School of Social Work.

Ackerson responds to questions colored by the recent survey published in Public Libraries. The survey suggested librarians were overwhelmingly concerned about mentally ill patrons.

What is your reaction to policies such as those at public libraries that seem to exclude homeless or mentally ill patrons?

I have some very strong feelings about them, but I’m not an unbiased person. My late wife, to whom I was married for 30 years, was an academic librarian, so I have some feelings for the issues that librarians contend with …

If someone is simply wearing old, tattered clothes and hasn’t bathed recently, I firmly believe that people in our society need to respect that that person has a right to live in our community. If they’re bothering other people, it’s a different issue. ...

But what if they make other people uneasy or scare other patrons away from public spaces?

... We need to have some very vigorous services because some of these people have been in and out of our systems for a long time, and the services we currently have aren’t meeting their needs.

I’m an advocate of community outreach programs and assertive community treatment. I think social workers and mental health professionals shouldn’t do all of our jobs sitting behind our desks.

Read the whole piece.

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