Being homeless comes with any number of inconveniences, not the least of which is the boredom that comes with having nowhere to go and nothing to do.
Until recently, hobos in Massachusetts used to be able to check out library books.
Robert Bombard has loved books even longer than he’s been homeless. He worked at the library as a teen, volunteered there as an adult and even worked in the prison library during his last stretch.
He got a rude awakening three years ago when he went to check out a few books from the Worcester Public Library.
“They said ‘Oh, no — you live at a shelter,’ right in front of everybody,” he told Adam Gorlick of the Associated Press. “It made me feel like a second-class citizen.”
It seems a new policy said that people without a permanent address were forbidden to take out more than two books at a time.
The city’s head librarian, Penelope Johnson, says the lawsuit over this change in policy prevents her from discussing the number of books lost to the homeless, she would only say that it had become a problem.
She adds that the policy — which allows folks with homes to take up to 50 books — wasn’t meant to discriminate against the homeless, just treat them differently.
“We are exploring ways to ensure that the borrowing policies are fair and equitable,” Johnson said. “But we need a system that allows us to track and retrieve items.”
An open letter by Johnson on the Worcester Public Library website reads — with no apparent irony — “In all its operations, the library strives to eliminate barriers to the pursuit of ideas.
Not surprisingly, Johnson’s ill-conceived policy runs counter to the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights, which plainly states that policies “should not target specific users or groups of users.”
Predictably, the American Civil Liberties Union has taken up Bombard’s cause, bringing a suit against the library and the city.
John Reinstein, legal director for the ACLU in Massachusetts says he was shocked to learn of a library with a hateful streak.
“To my knowledge, this is not a typical problem across the country,” he said. “My experiences are that librarians are great people in making their facilities accessible to everyone.”
Librarians have historically been among the most patriotic and freedom-loving members of this great nation. Time and again they have thwarted efforts by government storm troopers to stomp on the civil rights of others. This is indeed a sad turn of events.