Implementing ALA's Poor People's Policy

Issued in 2000, this document originally appeared in Library Juice vol. 3, no. 10 (March 8, 2000) and later in Progressive Librarian no. 18 (Summer 2001) p. 74-76.

ALA/SRRT’s Hunger, Homelessness, and Poverty Task Force is making the following


“The American Library Association promotes equal access to information for all persons, and recognizes the urgent need to respond to the increasing number of poor children, adults, and families in America.”
(ALA Policy 61, Library Services for the Poor)

Actions for Citizens

Challenge public policy that adversely affects low-income people such as welfare reform, cutting tax credits, reducing food stamps, eliminating benefits to immigrants, reducing health benefits, etc.

Join local advocacy groups that work to promote resources being made available to poor people.

Promote full, stable, and ongoing funding for existing legislative programs in support of low-income services and for pro-active library programs that reach beyond traditional service-sites to poor children, adults, and families.

Promote the implementation of an expanded federal low-income housing program, national health insurance, full-employment policy, living minimum wage and welfare payments, affordable day care, and programs likely to reduce, if not eliminate, poverty itself.

Actions for Library Professionals

Related to library services and policies

Examine your library’s mission statement. Who is supposed to be served? Are all people welcome? Are all people being served? What are the barriers to people using the library? What steps could be taken to eliminate these barriers?

Work to ensure people know how library policies are determined and are able to voice their concerns.

Evaluate library policies to ensure that the policies do not discriminate based on the ability to pay for access and/or service.

Promote the removal of all barriers to library and information services, particularly fees and overdue charges.

Ensure the future success of all children by contributing to efforts that ensure children know how to read and are encouraged to read.

Work with local literacy providers to publicize availability of Adult Basic Education classes, GED, ESL, etc. to help adults improve their literacy skills.

Related to staff training

Promote training to sensitize library staff to issues affecting poor people and to attitudinal and other barriers that hinder poor people’s use of libraries.

Promote training opportunities for librarians, in order to teach effective techniques for generating public funding to upgrade library services to poor people.

Related to budgets and funding

Promote the incorporation of low-income programs and services into regular library budgets in all types of libraries, rather than the tendency to support these projects solely with “soft money” like private or federal grants.

Promote equity in funding adequate library services for poor people in terms of materials, facilities, and equipment.

Promote supplemental support for library resources for and about low-income populations by urging local, state, and federal governments and the private sector to provide adequate funding.

Related to outreach services

Ask local community organizations what issues they’re working on and how the library can contribute to their work.

Promote the determination of output measures through the encouragement of community needs assessments, giving special emphasis to assessing the needs of low-income people and involving both anti-poverty advocates and poor people themselves in such assessments.

Have a special area of reports, brochures, and newsletters of local organizations and agencies with addresses, contact names, and purpose of groups so that interested people can get involved.

Fund and support outreach services that address community needs such as literacy programs, read-aloud programs, etc.

Promote networking and cooperation between libraries and other agencies, organizations, and advocacy groups in order to develop programs and services that effectively reach poor people.

Build partnerships with organizations in your community that serve low-income families. Tell those organizations what you have, how the library works, and update them on new materials and services.

Promote among library staff the collection of food and clothing donations, volunteering personal time to anti-poverty activities, and contributing money to direct-aid organizations. Promote related efforts concerning minorities and women, since these groups are disproportionately represented among poor people.

Compile a database of local community organizations and make it part of your library’s Web pages and/or online catalog and make this information readily available to patrons who may need it.

Sponsor public events (such as forums, speakers, community discussions, presentations by local organizations) so people can understand issues affecting them—taxes, child care options, job gap, corporate welfare, crime, school services, etc.

Related to public awareness

Promote increased public awareness—through programs, displays, bibliographies, and publicity—of the importance of poverty-related library resources and services in all segments of society.

Promote direct representation of poor people and anti-poverty advocates through appointment to local boards and creation of local advisory committees on service to low-income people, such appointments to include library-paid transportation and stipends.

Collect, display, and make readily accessible current and up-to-date information on issues that are being debated such as the wage gap, lack of jobs, lack of child-care, welfare reform, etc.

Promote the publication, production, purchase, and ready accessibility of print and non-print materials that honestly address the issues of poverty and homelessness, that deal with poor people in a respectful way, and that are of practical use to low-income patrons.

Related to professional association activities

Read ALA’s “Poor People’s Policy” and think about how its recommendations may be implemented in the libraries where you work.

Distribute copies of ALA’s “Poor People’s Policy” to colleagues and initiate a discussion of the Poor People’s Policy at the libraries where you work and get your colleagues thinking about and discussing ways it can be implemented.

Ask ALA’s Washington Office to actively support legislative initiatives that would contribute to reducing, if not eliminating, poverty (e.g. living wage, more low-income housing, etc.).

Get involved in the ALA offices working on the issues of library services to the poor such as the Social Responsibilities Round Table Task Force on Hunger, Homelessness, and Poverty, the OLOS Subcommittee on Library Services to the Poor and Homeless, or various other committees within ALA.

Document effective library services aimed at serving poor people and share information about these programs through ALA publications, conference sessions, electronic discussion lists, etc. as well as to groups outside ALA.

Encourage library science programs to offer courses on services to poor people.

Volunteer to develop and lead creative strategies within ALA and other professional associations that can bring visibility to the issue of libraries services for the poor.