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Elijah Returns

My year-end post seems to have been more agitating than I intended. I don't want its larger points to be lost.

How we treat others in any space, public or private, goes a long way toward determining who and what we are as a society. This is especially true in extreme circumstances—in our private spaces, faced with someone behaving outside the norm through his own fault (intoxication, for instance) or not (say, a medical condition). At that instant, who can guess the cause of the aberrant behavior? I only ask for pause to consider the best course of action for all involved.

It's easy for me to second-guess Berlin because I wasn't there in the moment. I gladly grant that. However, I stand by my own gut response to his anecdote: I still think the cops need not have been involved. The police exist in large part to handle intractable situations. From my vantage, the fellow on the porch was tractable. The finer legal points of the flagrancy of his vagrancy aside (there's a reason breaking and entering is a violent crime and trespassing is not), I'm fairly sure a shout from the front-door threshold would have woken him and sent him scurrying away embarrassed.

What does all this have to do with librarianship? Well, librarians (and cops, for that matter) are among the few workers whose workspace is a also public space. It's not unusual for us to encounter homeless, drunk, and or unstable people regularly at work. And we have to deal with them, ourselves. And because we do, we need to be sensitive to that person, as well as anyone else in the library potentially affected by the interaction.

If a homeless or drunk person walked into an office building, there are people and protocols in place to deal with them, usually before they wander up to some unsuspecting worker's cubicle. I've worked as a security guard and had to use such protocols to assist homeless guys out of the building's lobby—the office's front porch, if you will. Still, the police were never involved.

The guy on Berlin's porch should certainly be grateful his local police seem to take the "keeper of the peace" part of their jobs as seriously as they do the "law enforcement" part. And Berlin is lucky to live in a precinct so responsive and willing to step in for him. I hope neither takes their police—or their public librarians—for granted.

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