Look for the Helpers: Public Libraries and the Homeless is a poster in the 2020 PNLA Virtual Poster Session. We encourage you to engage in discussion by leaving a comment on the page. The author of the poster will respond to comments the week of August 4-7, 2020.

Presenter: Kellian Clink, Minnesota State University, Mankato

Track: Public Library

Abstract: Mr. Rogers is famous for “looking for the helpers” when misfortune happens. There are a million ways that people end up homeless and a lot of ways that public libraries respond. This presentation will review the recent literature and offer up ideas from public libraries about policies and programming. During the pandemic, many have been inventive about serving patrons through wi-fi available in their parking lots, and afterwards? After an overview of homelessness in the PNLA region, this will briefly describe notions from public libraries on services for homeless children and families taken from the pages of our library literature and news sources to generate ideas for after, as I am calling it, bugtime.


Supporting MaterialLook for the Helpers: Public Libraries and the Homeless: A Literature Review

About the Presenter: Kellian Clink has been a librarian for 34 years, 2 of those years while on leave at a public library in Geneva Illinois. Kellian has been a volunteer at the homeless shelter for two years.


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Kellian donna Clink
6 days ago

Do be in touch, would love to hear from you. Email is kellianclink@gmail.com or kellian.clink@mnsu.edu, if you would rather talk I’m at 507 400 4391.

David Luftig
Reply to  Kellian donna Clink
5 days ago

This is tremendous! I worked in a PNW public library for almost seven years and am familiar with many of those subjects you talked about (I worked there during the last housing crisis). I wondering how the community, and library patrons as a whole, are responding and supporting the assistance provided to those without stable housing. I know that was a big problem where I used to work as multiple patrons told me they had stopped going to the library due to the large amounts of transient folks. It was quite a source of tension within the libraries and community.

David Luftig
Reply to  David Luftig
5 days ago

Ooof. Sorry about the typos ; )

Kellian donna Clink
Reply to  David Luftig
5 days ago

I only worked for a public library for a couple of years but I’m a volunteer at the homeless shelter (recently moved to ONE church, we used to have to go to a different one every week) and serve on the Social Services Task Force in my community. I am SOOOO concerned about the possible increase in the number of homeless and I think parks and libraries should talk..Mpls just started clearing out the parks of the encampments (102 at the high water mark) but WHERE are they going to go? Dunno.. I asked the T.ask Force last night about laundry. I think that if the homeless weren’t olifactorily bothersome, it would be some of the issue. Our latest iteration of a shelter doesn’t have laundry facilities so I’m thinking my contribution could be getting tokens (paying for them, not thinking the launderettes will ante up) for the folks at the shelter (we usually only have 32 guests)… I know I don’t know how complex this is because I don’t deal with it on a regular basis, but I do feel like it is SUPER complex because you want the moms and their kids coming back and they might not if they don’t feel safe..and comfortable.. some of the articles are kind of YOU SHOULD do this…and I’m like YOU DON’T know the specific library and the realities there. I don’t think there’s one size fits all. It just DEPENDS!!!!!

4 days ago

Thank you for sharing all this research! The supplemental script/PDF is really helpful, too- I will definitely be referring back to it. This is all super important to think critically about, especially as huge swaths of our communities face threats of eviction on top of everything.

pulling this quote.. “Librarians in many of the studies expressed a wish to get training of all sorts: on local services, de-escalation and nonviolent crisis intervention, how to talk to the homeless and the patrons offended by the presence of the homeless. ” thank you for highlighting this need!

Kellian donna Clink
Reply to  katy
4 days ago

Yup, I think that’s the most important takeaway!

3 days ago

Kellian — thank you for sharing you work with us. Those numbers and topic are important to keep in front of us at all times. I think PNLA offers a great venue to learn from communities in other states about how libraries support or interact with unhoused populations. I am keen to hear how our Canadian members approach this topic. PNLA also is a platform to for librarians to talk about rural poverty and the unhoused — not just metropolitan areas. Reprinting your numbers here:

Alaska: 2019 –1907
Alberta: 2014—6663
British Columbia: 2018–7,655
Idaho 2017: 2,037
Montana 2016: 2,060
Oregon 2018: 15,800
Washington 2019 21,621

This would be a great contribution the PNLA Quarterly as an article — if you haven’t found a venue for your paper already.