Libraries have long been veneered for providing free access to all. It's one of the last remaining public spaces in which users can drop in and read or use a computer, no questions asked.
But a library in Newmarket, Ont. fears it's being confused - even abused - as a facility for its homeless population. Some of whom may also suffer from drug addiction or mental illness.
Staff has taken to handing out letters to certain patrons reminding them of the location of "free showers and laundry facilities."
Of course personal hygiene is always a major concern in public spaces - particularly during the hot summer months. However, to blatantly target and call out specific individuals for being smelly is not only rude, it's discriminatory.
You can't please all the people all the time. This appears to be the chief concern of the library's CEO Todd Kyle, who says other patrons frequently complain about the fact that such individuals are allowed to visit the site at all.
“I’ve had people comment to me that it’s too bad we have human rights laws, otherwise you could kick them out," said Kyle. "I don’t have a response to that.”
Neither do we, frankly.
A few letters have been doled out to people who are probably down on their luck and likely have nowhere to go.
Clearly a library does not obviate the need for housing and social services. Instead of singling out and discriminating against certain people, staff would be better trying out compassion.
By all means post notices around the library making such facilities known. Why not even bring in representatives from social services for a free workshop or information session?
But whatever you do, never lose sight of what makes libraries so indispensable: the fact that they are there to serve everyone.
It's in the name: public libraries exist for every solitary human being. Whether it's to take shelter from the elements for a while, to use of computers to surf for jobs or housing, or to use the phone to call said social services, they provide an important service.
Public libraries are a cornerstone of human dignity. Please, Newmarket, let's keep it that way.