Public Comments Show Portland Is Divided Over Who Gets to Use the Public Library

The debate is a proxy for deep differences of opinion about people on the margins using library branches as daytime shelters.

On Nov. 1, the Multnomah County Library's 19 branches will begin enforcing rules that this month were updated for the first time in two decades.

In the first two weeks of October, the library solicited public comment on the updated rules, which include prohibitions on using drugs, carrying weapons, eating, sleeping and using the restroom sinks for bathing or shaving.

While the updated rules don't mention homeless people directly, the comments show the debate is a proxy for deep differences of opinion about people on the margins using library branches as daytime shelters.

Here are some of those responses, edited for brevity and clarity:

Love the new rules

"Just a THANK YOU. Noticed you have amended the library rules and have made updates regarding animals and food. I don't know how many times I saw entire meals spread out, especially in the public computer areas. Once photographed 3 transients sharing a rotisserie chicken and tossing bones to the large unmuzzled pit bull of theirs under the table."

"Faces covered with bandanas should not be allowed. Pants down below the ass should not be allowed."

"I wholeheartedly agree with these rules. Time it got back to being a library versus a homeless shelter with books. Hopefully I'll be able to go in and pick up reserved books without have to hold my breath/nose and feeling like I'm taking my life in my own hands."

"Please for the love of god enact all of them. I work downtown pretty near the Central location, and I hate going there due to the smell and creepiness of a lot of the other patrons. I'm not anti-hobo and I think the guys who play cards and chat that have known each other for a million years are sweet. But god help me if I want to be trapped in an elevator with a guy that reeks of pee, BO and god knows what else."

"We need to do everything in our power to prevent access to freeloading out-of-town transients by cracking down on [library] card-sharing."

"Please add that people with open sores on their body should not be allowed into the library. A man with many sores with scabs on his body sat next to me on Computer 311 a month ago, AND he kept picking off the scabs! I don't know what he did with the scabs; I reported it to the desk attendant upon leaving, and requested that the computer and seat be sanitized."

Hate the new rules

"Your apparent contempt for our most vulnerable citizens leaves me saddened. Because Portland's elected leaders have failed to take action in offering basic support services to people lacking shelter, the library assumes an added burden. But your callous indifference to the plight of the unfortunate should shame you. These 'rules' are ultimately cruel and insulting. Shame on you."

"Please consider relaxing the 'eating food' stipulation. I would really appreciate it if I can eat my 2 slices of toasted butter and cheese slice sandwich I make at home every day, somewhere in the library. I bring them in a tidy Ziploc bag, and never mess any crumbs anywhere."

"Overall, these rules make sense to me, but it should be noted that referring to 'marijuana and its derivatives' is problematic on a couple of levels. First, 'marijuana' is a loaded term that was designed to inflame racial prejudice, and using words that refer to the plant itself should be revised to read 'cannabis.'"

I for one plan on breaking the law, and hopefully when I'm being busted for bringing in my carry-all luggage, another patron will take out a sandwich and eat it, and when they get harassed, someone else will take a sip off their Big Gulp, and then when they are reprimanded by the rat patrol down there, somebody else will close their eyes and meditate."

"I think many of these 'rules' are aimed at people who have no home and nowhere to go. If they don't have a home, it's hard to shower and of course they smell. Please don't put up signs that say everyone is welcome when what you mean is everyone except the homeless people are welcome at the library."

"The chief librarian's insensitivity to those struggling with poverty should be an embarrassment to all who serve the library. As our President would say, 'Sad.'"

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