There may well be reasons to provide more for Gloucester's Sawyer Free Library when the City Council revisits Mayor Carolyn Kirk's fiscal 2013 budget proposal tonight.
But adding an assistant director to train staffers in dealing with perceived homeless people and others who smell of alcohol and deal with substance abuse issues by crashing at the library sure isn't one of them.
Indeed, the first step needed in tackling this problem is to let the library staff focus on working with patrons young and old seeking to use the library's many resources — and to call on police to clear unwanted interlopers who, while wrestling with their own issues, can intimidate and drive away legitimate library visitors, especially children.
The issue of perceived drug addicts and the homeless increasingly using the library as a daytime refuge especially surfaced last winter, when Action Inc. gained city clearance to add eight beds to its overnight facility on Main Street. With that, discussions emerged about where its clients spent the day. And The Grace Center, a day shelter rotated among three Middle Street churches, opened to step into a clear void in serving Gloucester's and Cape Ann's homeless population.
Yet, for all its good intentions, The Grace Center can't provide all the services these folks need — or be expected to — and many still "hang out" at the library. That, quite simply, is unacceptable.
Police Chief Michael Lane noted that, when visitors become unruly, crash or fall asleep in the reading rooms, rest rooms or stairwells or otherwise drive away patrons, Library Director Carol Gray "can call us anytime." But clearly that doesn't always happen.
Lane says that Gray is "too good of a soul" — and that can be admirable. But by not cracking down on this problem, Gray and the staff are exacerbating it. That's grossly unfair to patrons who use the library for its rightful purposes — and who, in many cases, are taxpayers paying for it.
City officials and human service providers should focus on the need to take a more comprehensive approach to homelessness, and better provide the services these people truly need.
But that need cannot include training library staffers to deal with a social problem that is — and should be — far from their field of expertise.