The public library, it's for everyone, right? All you need is a free library card, which you can get by verifying your address.
Only it's not that simple. What if you are a college student living in shared quarters that are rented in someone else's name? What if you are unemployed, and staying temporarily with relatives? What if you are living at the local homeless shelter, and the shelter's address is not acceptable for a library card?
I've written about this before. You and I find it hard to believe that anyone could not prove that they live somewhere, but it's true. As I found out myself earlier this year, when I had to get a new driver's license, it is not easy or cheap anymore to get a Florida driver's license or ID. And then there are the people who could prove it, but who for whatever reason don't want to, don't want to be found.
At the reference desk it comes up most often when people want to use a public-access PC. If they don't have a library card, they can get a "guest pass" for a single one-hour session per day. A guest is supposed to be a visitor, someone who is passing through, who doesn't reside in Leon County.
We sell the library card every time. With a card, they can choose where they sit, and have additional sessions, as well as full library borrowing privileges. Yet we continue to issue guest passes on a daily basis to people who clearly live here, but who are for various reasons ineligible for library cards. Roughly one third of our public access PC users ask for guest passes.
I think of Paul, who lives at the homeless shelter, and who needs to get online to search for a decent job, so that he can earn enough to rent a place of his own, at which point he will be eligible for a library card. The poor guy comes in after five, having clocked out as a day-laborer, dirty and tired, and asks for a guest pass to get on the Internet. We all know his story, so we don't nag him about getting a card. He's trying.
I feel a little guilty, sitting there, so safe with my government job. He wants what I have, a permanent job with a living wage, and a place of his own.