ARLINGTON, Va. – (Business Wire) People with untreated severe mental illnesses may pose a greater risk to the future of America’s public libraries than does the invention of the Internet, according to a new survey released in the March/April edition of American Libraries, the journal of the American Library Association.
I needn’t tell you who authored the study. That’s right: TAC. The stats TAC offers in the study are:
Other findings include:
- 28 percent say they have witnessed someone with a psychiatric disorder assault a staff member;
- 58 percent report more library patrons who appear to have serious psychiatric disorders now than when they first started working in the library;
- 61 percent say library patrons with psychiatric disorders utilize a disproportionate amount of staff time; and,
- 66 percent say they have needed to change library rules because of patrons with mental illnesses.
There are so many problems with these stats, it’s hard to know where to begin. First of all, there’s that word “appear.” Are library employees qualified to determine who has serious psychiatric disorders? I doubt it. I suspect they wouldn’t identify me as one of those people, but I’m guessing every disheveled person gets tarred with that brush, no matter the issue. And let’s not forget the classicism and racism that makes such observations inherently problematic. If a black guy in dirty clothes comes into a library and spends a lot of time on the web, is he going to be seen as the same as a white woman in clean clothes (like me)? Who’s more likely to be called “crazy,” despite whatever behaviors?
Even assuming that people with psych disorders do use the library — which I know is true, particularly when their situation coincides with poverty — why can’t they? So what if they have odd behaviors? Are they any less entitled to access the resources? People with disabilities have a right to be accommodated.
TAC’s ostensible point is that:
“Our nation’s libraries are turning into daytime shelters for people with severe mental illness who need to be in treatment. The fact that libraries remain a safe haven from violence and life on the streets for people with mental illness is a sad commentary. Doing so devalues human life and the importance of libraries in our communities.”
But the study isn’t about sympathizing with people with mental illness. It’s about making them look like freaks.
The librarians surveyed reported very serious problems in dealing with patrons with mental illness, including, “two librarians murdered by a mentally-ill patron in the early ’90s,” according the study. Others reported being punched, having chairs thrown, and stalking.
The librarians were frank in their comments about dealing with people with mental illness. Included were such statements as:
“Many, many library customers don’t come downtown to our central library because they are afraid of these customers…They perceived the library to be a dangerous place and another homeless shelter and it has really lessened our stature in the community and is disheartening to our staff.”
“Other patrons are often frightened by strange behavior…They tend to hold onto their children more tightly and leave more quickly than they might have planned.”
“A number of patrons have told us they will not be back because of unpleasant encounters they feel are unsafe.”
As Joe points out, where is StigmaBusters on this? Hey, NAMI, get some balls. This is unacceptable.
[This image is of Mudd Library at my alma mater, Oberlin College. It was the awesomest library I've ever lived in. Thank God they let me in.]