The Millions

What’s a Library to Do? On Homelessness and Public Spaces

The Central Library building in downtown St. Louis.

1.
Russell had a long beard that at least one librarian likened to Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s. Every day he showed up to the Central Library building in downtown St. Louis, and because he always wore the same clothes, bearing the logo of the city’s former NFL team, the staff privately nicknamed him “Rams Jacket.” It was increasingly becoming a problem that hundreds of people like Russell, who spent their nights at the homeless shelter across the street, would spend their days in the library. But Russell was, according to one librarian who worked at Central at the time, “the most regular of the regulars.”

He always sat in the exact same room, at the same table, in the same chair. He usually read quietly, and when not reading, he napped sitting with the book propped up in front of him. He was in many ways the ideal library patron. However, Russell slept at a shelter where a different person used every bed each night, the linens changed only once a week. He became afflicted with bed bugs. He suffered from painful, suppurating sores.

Homeless people spending time in and around public libraries are nothing unusual in metropolitan areas. It has been written about , . But at this central library in St. Louis, the city system’s crown jewel, a conundrum that exists all over the country was heightened to a rare degree. A library is supposed

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Millions

The Millions4 min read
Am I a Bad Feminist?
“How could you publish this novel?” That’s what I heard after I chose to write about a girl falsely accusing a man of sexual assault during the #MeToo era. The post Am I a Bad Feminist? appeared first on The Millions.
The Millions3 min read
We’re in a Rough Place in History Right Now: The Millions Interviews Carmen Maria Machado
The award-winning author of ‘Her Body and Other Parties’ on writing fiction for today, the tyranny of genre, and reading outside of our comfort zones. The post We’re in a Rough Place in History Right Now: The Millions Interviews Carmen Maria Machado
The Millions5 min read
October Preview: The Millions Most Anticipated (This Month)
André Aciman. Zadie Smith. Ben Lerner. Saeed Jones. Jeanette Winterson. It's October and brand new books are dropping like beautiful fall leaves. The post October Preview: The Millions Most Anticipated (This Month) appeared first on The Millions.