Naperville Libraries Work to be More Welcoming to Homeless Patrons

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Naperville libraries are working to become more accommodating to homeless customers with help from a local shelter leader.

In 2013 Ryan Dowd posted a video on YouTube to help a few librarians who wanted advice on working with the homeless population.

“I gave it to maybe five different libraries in the area and then forgot about it, and a few years later got a call from the American Library Association wanting to interview me, and I said ‘What for?’ And they said, ‘You’re YouTube video has gone viral and it’s being used all around the country.’”

Now the executive director of Hesed House in Aurora is touring the country giving advice on working with homeless people.

Dowd recently did a training session with the Naperville Public Library, where they say they want to welcome homeless patrons.

“It’s how to stand, what to do with your hands, what to say, what not to say to deescalate conflict and to ideally get people to follow the rules without threatening them with punishment,” said Dowd.

Librarians say these tips are only becoming more important with time.

“Libraries are becoming more community centers, not just a place to come and check out books or a place to check out a movie,” said Dave Della Terza, the Naperville Public Library deputy director. “We’ve got computers. We’ve got resources. We’ve got stuff for people who want to start businesses. We’ve got programs, movies, all kinds of stuff people want to come in here for, and when someone is homeless they might need some of those resources.”

It’s that community center status that Dowd loves most about libraries.

“And whether you’re a businessman who makes a billion dollars a year or whether you’re a homeless individual living on the street or whether you’re a school teacher or a student or a toddler or whomever you are, that is a public space for you,” said Dowd.

And Dowd says people often overlook why homeless individuals love libraries. It’s not just about air conditioning and somewhere to put their belongings but that libraries are everything homelessness is not.

“Homeless shelters are crowded, and it’s very, very tightly packed,” Dowd explained. “You go into a library, and there’s much more space, and you can kind of be, and you can breathe. And homeless shelters and homelessness, it’s loud, and libraries tend to be much quieter. Homelessness is really boring. There’s a lot of just kind of down time. Libraries are just this wealth of information and stimulation and ways to grow your brain.”

After receiving so much interest in the topic, Dowd has also written a book on the subject in order to spread his message. “The Librarian’s Guide to Homelessness” is expected to go on sale later this year.

Naperville News 17’s Beth Bria reports.