2009/09/03

Huddled Masses, Wretched Refuse

It is shocking to me, when I see the parade of humanity that streams through our doors when we open in the morning: a legion of the unwashed and unemployed, wanting only to connect online. They might be kings in cyberspace, Napoleons in rags.

I had seen them, a family of four country folk, mother, father, son and wife, (edit: or maybe daughter, I think now, 2nd edit: fiancé, says the son), passing the time at the tables, as though they had nowhere else to go. Modern Okies fetched up at the library. Yesterday the younger woman complained of stomach pains, slumped on the carpet near the reference desk. We called for an ambulance. They were back today, she sleeping on the concrete bench on the second floor landing.

4 comments:

May said...

That's not how it should be. Those people should be sent to a different place.

Brett said...

May, I wish that there were another place where destitute persons and families could go for help and comfort, but there isn't, at least not in Florida. They might be staying at the local homeless shelter, which turns people out to fend for themselves during the day. What else is there? Malls? They are commercial spaces, and are not obliged to harbor vagrants.

They could sit on benches in the public parks, but who can blame them for seeking out an air-conditioned space with water fountains and bathrooms?

Libraries are the only places that offer free public-access computing for people who don't have their own computers. Government services like food stamps and unemployment compensation are increasingly available only online. Homeless people rely on the library's Internet PC's to let family members know where they are. You should see how the library empties out when the Internet goes down!

For better or worse, public libraries are the only resort for people who lack any other access to the Internet.

May said...

I think that libraries have a different function than offering free internet access. I would be bothered if I went to a library and found out that it is used for inappropriate purposes. Those unfortunate people should be addressed to a different kind of place where they can look for work and for help.

Brett said...

I can only observe that homeless or unemployed people are still free citizens, and may use the library like anyone else, within the bounds of library rules and policies. No one may sleep in the library, panhandle, or use the bathrooms to bathe.

I would be thrilled if they had a better place to go, May.

As to whether the library ought to offer free Internet access, I did say, "for better or worse". Believe me, I have often wished that I could turn back the clock; not only on Internet access at the library, but on the Internet itself. But that train left the station a very long time ago.