While cognizant of their social mission, public libraries often still have found it challenging to serve one of their most marginalized constituencies - the homeless. However, bound by legal mandate as well as American Library Association (ALA) core values of access, democracy, and serving the public, libraries must find ways to serve the needs of poor and homeless patrons. This paper describes the demographics and characteristics of homelessness, explores legal and ethical issues with regard to library services, identifies selected model library programs that serve this population effectively, and provides practical guidance and recommendations to public libraries and librarians struggling with this matter, including how to draft patron codes of behavior that are consistent with legal guidelines. Serving the poor and homeless is both a challenge and an opportunity to put the American Library Association’s core values into practice. In so doing, public libraries model the democratic principles they would have their patrons emulate, not only demonstrating but creating the kind of society for which they stand.

About Author

Paul Kaidy Barrows is a MLIS candidate at San Jose State University. A web and information services professional for more than a dozen years, his passion is empowering seekers and learners through technology and education.