Chip Ward on homeless people and libraries

Tom Englehardt ( has posted an article by Chip Ward about the homeless problem and libraries. Chip Ward is the retired director of the Salt Lake City Public Library. (Is it this article that I have already seen somewhere, or something similar from Mr. Ward? John G., please comment if you know the answer.)

Chip Ward should be crediting for looking at the homeless problem as a whole when looking at how it affects libraries, instead of just looking at how it affects libraries. (This is a perfect example of how a “non-library issue” can very much be a library issue. Treating “homelessness” as a non-library issue leads to treating homeless people in libraries as an obstacle to service rather than as part of the public served, which is what they are.)

5 comments on “Chip Ward on homeless people and libraries

  1. I agree that homelessness is a legitimate library issue, as it can have a great impact on public libraries, and to address it properly one needs to address the root causes. I believe for many mentally ill homeless, the best solution would be for them to live in a supervised setting where they have to take their medication, probably either in a hospital or a group home type of environment.

  2. I was away from home (and email) for over a week, so I was late in discovering Chip Ward’s article. I’ll be blogging on this shortly, but my initial reaction is that he does a fairly balanced job of identifying the frustrations of frontline library staff, the health issues homeless people struggle with, and the macro problem of an inadequate social “safety net.”

    As I’ve said elsewhere, however, the population Ward discusses–people living at the extreme edge of poverty–seems to be the de facto representative all low-income people in library discourse. Our preoccupation with this slice of the low-income population (a legitimate concern, certainly, in large urban areas) perhaps reinforces stereotypes that do not apply to the larger homeless and precariously housed population and low-income people as a whole (think poor working families and parents with multiple jobs).

    At any rate, Ward’s piece is compelling and offers a lot to talk about. Here’s a related piece from artist Peter Bagge:

  3. I interviewed Ward about this on the 4th. Hear his comments on the April 5th edition of LibVibe. It’s the second story, about two minutes in. -M!

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