Review: The Librarian’s Guide to Homelessness by Ryan J. Dowd

I’m timid when it comes to confrontation. Just the thought of having to tell a patron to correct their behaviour makes my stomach twist. However, if I want to be able to take up a leadership or management position, work at a public library in a city, or be able to maintain a relationship with potentially troublesome patrons, I’ll need to break this timidness.

One population of patrons that seems the most daunting to talk to are our homeless. I understand they enjoy the library. There is space to roam, clean bathrooms, free WiFi, books, and magazines, heat and air, running water, shelter. So I dread the day I’ll have to mention that they might be disturbing other patrons or that they are breaking a behaviour policy. Even now I cringe to think of it.

I want people to like me – it makes my job easier. I put a smile on for everyone, nod and acknowledge them as they pass, give a greeting and maybe a reminder that I am there to help.

The Librarian’s Guide to Homelessness : An Empathy-Driven Approach to Solving Problems, Preventing Conflict, and Serving Everyone by Ryan J Dowd popped up in a professional magazine and I pounced onto the catalog to get a copy. Now an excerpt graces the inside of the recent ALA American Libraries June 2018 edition and there is a hold on it which prevented me from renewing it further.

The Librarian’s Guide to Homelessness : An Empathy-Driven Approach to Solving Problems, Preventing Conflict, and Serving Everyone

by Ryan J Dowd

Chicago: ALA Editions, 2018

This book was a pleasure to read. Dowd’s years of experience as head of the Hesed House in Aurora, Illinois to present librarians with useful tools in a knowledgeable, relatable, and humorous way. There is no feeling of disconnect between the propose potential scenarios and what a librarian might expect at a library.

The writing is enjoyable and highly readable. Couple this with the highly useful content and it is easy to see how I finished it in three days (probably could have done it in two). Dowd provides several tools and examples of what to and not to do. Each tool has a name that stick with you after you leave. For example, I know the tool that scares me the most is the Anti-Procrastinator. This tool reminds me to act immediately to address a potentially bad situation early before it becomes a bigger situation. PS – I didn’t have to refer back to the book for that.

This is for all staff in a library who serve the public. Dowd believes that you have to get your head, body, and words in line to serve homeless patron effectively and respectively. He introduces the concept of empathy and punishment in a psychological, sociological, and physiological way that is easy to digest and apply to working condition.

Overall, my biggest complaint is that I have to shell out $57 to own a copy…and even then that is a relatively good price for a new ALA publication. I would say it is worth the money because of the content, but it depends on your budget. If you have a professional development collection for staff at your library, this would be a great addition. Maybe I’ll ask for it as a graduation present…

The Greatest Tool?
If I had to pick a tool that would be best for our library to use right now, it would be Amigos. This tool reminds libraries that they work best with partners. Partnering with the local shelters to understand the homeless situation in your area, to discuss any current behavior issues, to coordinate programming and services, and to potentially contract them to find a decent social worker for the library are all possibilities with this tool. I am considering reaching out to the shelter to see what my crafting group can do for them all year instead of the winter emphasis.

Digital Extras

Check out Dowd’s website : http://www.homelesslibrary.com

The ALA Editions page for the book has a linked interview with Dowd and a video of a reading from the book: https://www.alastore.ala.org/content/librarians-guide-homelessness-empathy-driven-approach-solving-problems-preventing-conflict

Take a look at the Hesed House website to see the services that they provide: https://www.hesedhouse.org/

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