Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Library helps homeless "bum" to earn from Web technologies

In a previous post, I gave my unsubstantiated opinion on the role for libraries in the economic sphere. Well, in this post, I just want to substantiate my viewpoint using a story published in the Publishers Weekly. Hanagarne (2013), in an article published by Publishers Weekly details the story of a friendly homeless gentleman, called "Scott", who was a patron of the Salt Lake City Public Library at which Hanagarne is employed. This regular patron of the library would often rent a laptop computer. One day he asked the librarian for advice, and Hanagarne was sent to help him. In this encounter, Hanagarne learned that the homeless gentleman has all these years of renting the laptop, been using it to work on building his own game. In the words of Hanagarne:

[Scott] explained to me that he’d been dividing his time between the Salt Lake City Public Library and the University Library up the street, teaching himself computer programming languages. Each time I’d seen him with a game on his computer, it wasn’t a game he was playing; it was apparently a game he was building.
“What gave you the idea to do this?” I said.
It was like he had stepped out of a library advocacy brochure. “Just decided that I didn’t want to be a bum anymore,” he said. “Got sober and decided to try to learn how to be around people again, so hopefully I can learn how to be useful. This city’s got services I can use, and it’s nice to have a shelter for sleeping and showering, but education’s how you get off the bottom.” He spread his arms and gestured around the building. “And this is the education I can get. And I’m trying to teach what I’ve learned to some of the other homeless so they can have a little dignity again.”
“So you feel like the library can give you dignity?” I said.
“I don’t feel like it can,” he said, “I feel like it does, no matter what, no matter who you are. If you’ve never been in a situation like mine, you might not be able to need this place in the same way I need it, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need it just as much, in a different way, you know what I’m saying?”  
After hearing Scott's story, the librarian took the opportunity to suggest means whereby Scott could earn from his website and eventually the homeless gentleman started to profit from ad clicks. This lovely true story illustrates that the library is indeed an institution positioned to play a role in improving the economic opportunities of those who are impoverished. In fact, Hanagarne provides evidence that it was even the printout, from the library’s website, of the Salt Lake City Public Library’s mission statement that helped to inspire this homeless man to educate and teach himself. I quote:

The City Library is a dynamic civic resource that promotes free and open access to information, materials and services to all members of the community to advance knowledge, foster creativity, encourage the exchange of ideas, build community and enhance the quality of life

Pay attention to these last words "enhance the quality of life". While improving people's quality of life is not our only purpose, it is and should be a purpose of all public and even academic libraries. At the end of the day, our patrons, through using our resources should be able to impact their economic well-being and thereby improve the quality of their lives, of which Scott's testimony should remind us all.


Hanagarne, J. (2013, Apr 26). How becoming a librarian saved me. Publishers Weekly Retrieved from

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