Homeless Citizens Seek Equal Access at Worcester PL

The Legal Assistance Corporation of Central Massachusetts, in conjunction with the ACLU of Massachusetts, has filed a lawsuit on behalf of homeless citizens against the Worcester Public Library.

The library restricts borrowing privileges for homeless residents, limiting them to two books—versus 40 books for everyone else.

The Boston Globe reports (7/9/06),

[T]hree homeless patrons of the library filed a class action lawsuit in US District Court, alleging that the policy violates their constitutional right to equal access to public services. The plaintiffs include a homeless couple whose 8-year-old daughter seeks out the latest Lemony Snicket adventures, and a woman who fled a home where she was the victim of domestic violence …

The seeds of Worcester’s battle were sewn two years ago, when a city librarian noticed that many of the library’s missing books had been loaned to people staying in the city’s shelters. Unable to find the offenders, the librarian proposed the two-book limit to the board of trustees, which approved the policy. [Head librarian Penelope] Johnson said she did not have data on how many books had been lost over the years to homeless patrons, but said the policy had helped curb the problem.

According to Kate Fitzpatrick, an attorney with LACCM, “We tried to work with the library for over a year to modify or rescind the policy, but felt we had no choice to file the lawsuit when we realized the extent of the city’s inflexibility and its lack of good faith to truly understand the policy’s effects.”

The Worcester Telegram & Gazette found that “the public library system lacks any firm criteria it can use to determine who is subject to a two-item borrowing limit at Worcester’s three library branches.”

Rather than restricting the borrowing privileges of individuals, the library reportedly maintains a list of social service agencies and limits anyone that is a client of these agencies. The Telegram & Gazette says that the list is incomplete and that not all agencies are “aware of their status at the library.”

[L]ibrary officials were resistant to disclosing information about the policy. They still have not publicly disclosed exact losses from items checked out and not returned by what the library calls transient residents.

Worcester PL’s policy clearly contradicts the values outlined in ALA Policy 61, Library Services for the Poor and the Library Bill of Rights.

If you would like to write a letter in support of the Worcester area’s homeless citizens and their right to equal services, contact:

Michael V. O’Brien
City Manager
City of Worcester
455 Main Street, Room 309
Worcester, MA 01608

Jay Scully
President, Board of Directors
Worcester Public Library
3 Salem Square
Worcester, MA 01608

Penelope Johnson
Head Librarian
Worcester Public Library
3 Salem Square
Worcester, MA 01608

Letters to the Editor
Worcester Telegram & Gazette
Worcester, MA 01615-0012
letters@telegram.com (in subject line write “Letter”; the email must include a mailing address)
Fax: 508-793-9313

Additional information is available via ALA and via Kathleen de la Peña McCook’s journal at LISNews.org.