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Oddly, though, librarians are "a group that prides themselves on openness, transparency, freedom of information, access to information, multiple viewpoints, multiple perspectives, diversity, all of that stuff that's politically correct and fashionable," he says. "Yet they don't feel free under the prevailing regime and in their own professional climate to say what they actually feel because they may be disciplined or punished in some way. That tells you something about the power of the prevailing political correctness within the profession."
Cronin says the librarians are not supposed to be ersatz social service workers or police, and libraries should not be compromised by such a small segment of the population.
"What is the purpose of the library? It is to provide readers with an environment in which they can access material, in which they can study," Cronin says. "People want to make a civil rights issue out of it, and libraries seem reluctant to challenge, so there is no attempt to enforce commonly accepted notions of what is acceptable social practice."
McNeill, who does try to enforce those commonly accepted notions with things like his rules sheet, says librarians have learned to deal with the issues of the homeless as part of the job and that few librarians have quit because of the homeless people. He also says that while the issues surrounding the homeless are discussed at staff meetings, it's not just a problem for the downtown library or the librarians.
"It's an issue for our whole society; it's not an issue that our library can really solve, but on the other hand we just can't pretend like one day we're going to wake up and this will miraculously be over," he says.
No, it's not going to be. Just ask the librarians.
"They were outside fighting last night; somebody was still left in the building. We searched for him, and he went out through one of the exit doors," the Dallas librarian says.
In the lobby of the library, while paramedics arrive to treat a woman who appears to be homeless and in need of medical care, Martha Brown, principal of Eagle Advantage Charter School in Dallas, and her assistant Lizette Rodriguez check out materials. They head toward the elevators and underground parking where the homeless are not.
Brown says she is familiar with the homeless at the library from many years of working downtown and is wary of the building because of them. She says she will not go to the downtown library alone and wouldn't bring children there either. She'd take children to a neighborhood library instead, she says.
"That was one of the things that steered me away," Brown says. "I didn't feel like dealing with that."
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