This study aims to focus on a qualitative and quantitative assessment of how homeless people in the USA use libraries. Libraries, especially in urban areas, have a complicated relationship with homeless patrons. It is easy to assume that homeless populations use libraries as a safe place to avoid the elements or to sleep. This paper considers the other ways that people without permanent housing are using libraries, how they perceive libraries, and what their specific information needs might be.
The primary method of data collection involved surveys conducted with over 100 homeless individuals in central Michigan in 2009, supplemented with information about area library policies that specifically affect this population.
Many homeless people in central Michigan use libraries frequently. They most often read for entertainment and use the internet. Survey respondents tended to be appreciative of library services. Local social service agencies are a primary source of information for homeless people in this area.
The challenges of identifying homeless people led to a respondent pool which seemed to be very high‐functioning. Homeless people who are mentally ill or struggling with serious substance abuse may not have been as prevalent at the venues which were used to survey respondents.
Most articles regarding homelessness in the library literature focus on how librarians can handle these “problem patrons.” However, little substantive information is known about how homeless people themselves view libraries. This paper provides insight into the needs of homeless people and how US libraries might best serve them. It also references international studies on the homeless and libraries.
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