Worcester Public Library Must Rescind Borrowing Policy

Submitted to WPL and others on behalf of the HHPTF …

The American Library Association provides guidelines for developing library policies, including access privileges. Founded on the Library Bill of Rights, the guidelines state that public libraries “should avoid arbitrary distinctions between individuals or classes of users,” policies “should not target specific users or groups of users,” and policies “must be communicated clearly and made available in an effective manner.”

An ALA document on economic barriers to information access notes, “Resources that are provided directly or indirectly by the library … should be readily, equally and equitably accessible to all library users.” ALA Policy 61 (Library Services for the Poor) calls for direct representation of poor people and their advocates in policymaking and for cooperation between libraries and social-service agencies.

Within these ALA parameters, and as reported by various media sources, Worcester Public Library is choosing to ignore its obligations to disadvantaged citizens. WPL’s two-book borrowing limit fails to provide equal access for low-income people. And bearing an air of classism, its incomplete “agency blacklist” brands them as thieves.

According to the U.S. Census, the percentage of people living below the poverty line in Worcester is higher than the national average. Is WPL attentive to this fact and responsive to those who struggle with poverty and social exclusion?

I am hopeful that WPL will rescind its prejudicial borrowing policy, and I am confident that there are more thoughtful ways to exercise “fiduciary responsibility.” In support of these necessary changes, I invite WPL staff, board members, and others to consult the resources available at www.hhptf.org.


John Gehner, Coordinator
Hunger, Homelessness & Poverty Task Force (HHPTF)
Social Responsibilities Round Table (SRRT)
of the American Library Association (ALA)