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Homeless (rough sleepers) perspectives on public libraries: a case study

Hao Zhang (Central City Library, Auckland Libraries, Auckland, New Zealand)
Brenda Chawner (School of Information Management, Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand)

Global Knowledge, Memory and Communication

ISSN: 2514-9342

Article publication date: 11 April 2018

Issue publication date: 10 August 2018




Homelessness has been a growing problem in many countries since the 1980s. The purpose of this paper is to examine homeless peoples’ perspectives on public library services, and to compare these with the attitudes of library staff.


Eight interviews have been conducted with rough sleepers and formerly homeless library patrons to examine their experiences, needs and expectations or the library. In addition, four library staff have been interviewed about their attitudes to services for members of the homeless community.


Most rough sleepers and formerly homeless patrons who participated in this research viewed the public library as a safe place because it offered a welcoming atmosphere, access to a variety of resources and services targeted at the homeless. Nonetheless, sleeping has always been a major reason for their use of the library. Most staff members agreed that providing services targeted toward rough sleepers changed the dynamic between staff and the homeless patrons, but there was some disagreement between staff members about whether targeted services were the most appropriate approach.

Practical implications

Understanding homeless and rough sleepers’ expectations for public library services may be useful in revising policy and developing services for this community. In particular, developing partnerships with organisations supporting the homeless is an effective way of developing relevant services for this often-marginalised group.


Little research has considered public library services from the perspective of homeless people. This research is intended to fill that gap.



First, the authors would like to thank the rough sleepers and former homeless patrons for their time and the personal stories they shared for this research. This project would not have been possible without their participation. The authors also want to thank staff at Auckland Central City Library for their help and contributions to this research project.


Zhang, H. and Chawner, B. (2018), "Homeless (rough sleepers) perspectives on public libraries: a case study", Global Knowledge, Memory and Communication, Vol. 67 No. 4/5, pp. 276-296.



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