Case Study: Homelessness and its impact on the Library

Is This A Public Library or A Refuge For the Homeless?

A Case Study in Planning 

Overview & Background

This case study was adapted from:

Anderson, A.J., Planning – Case Study: Is this a Public Library or Refuge for the Homeless? In Moran, B. B., & Morner, C. J. (2018). Library and information center management (9th ed., Vol. 1, Library and Information Science ). Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.abc-clio.com/Portals/0/StudentResources/A3663C/263280.PDF

Introduction

This case study takes place at Bridges Bay Public Library, presumably during the winter, over the duration of a two-day period. It is important to frame this case study in the broader context of the socioeconomic reality of Bay Bridges. The city has a population of 164,000 and in recent history has had issues with crime, congestion, and is dealing with declining financial resources. Most of the library staff are mainly middle and upper-income white suburbanites who service residents that are largely lower income minorities. In addition, 15.5% of all city residents live below the poverty level, compared to the 7.9% which is the national level – practically doubling the nationwide rate (Moran and Morner, 2018). Further analysis will be conducted in the second part of this assignment, but it is important to keep in mind while reading the overview that the management principle that is being addressed is the absence of clearly defined policies and guidelines that aid in staff decision making, this potentially could be indicate a flaw in their current strategic plan. Due to the limited space of the case study, I will focus on the various parts of the strategic plan that are absent, specifically the lack of understanding of its external environment, the policies and guidelines, as well as shared values, missions, and goals rather that are a part or come about as a result of a strategic plan.

The case study begins on a cold Monday morning, as the library opens, five homeless people (4 men, 1 woman) enter the main lobby, waiting for the temperature to warm up. Because of their visibility but mainly due to their hygiene (smell, attire, etc.), it does not take long before other library users, who are coming in to use the library, to question what the library staff plan on doing about the homeless people hanging out in the lobby. This forces management (initiated by the Director – Joseph Calenda) to convene to decide on what to do about the homeless people in the library. They decide to do nothing and wait for the weather to warm up, in hopes that these individuals leave on their own accord. This is the first instance in which planning is notably absent because they do not have any policy to refer to, to guide their decision-making process.

Without any policy or framework to guide them, management decided to make an inactive management decision. Although their inaction was partly correct, insofar that the four homeless men left and the lady eventually followed a few hours later. Their indecision and inability to take a course of action should be understood as short-sighted. If the library was aware of their external environment and the socioeconomic reality of it they would be been more likely to exercise a degree of foresight and conclude that more homeless people were likely to use the library in the future. In the end, to the dismay of the entire library, that ended up being the next day when the women from the previous day returned to the library lobby.

Her arrival the next day results in a similar set of questions from library users who want to know what the library plans on doing about the “bag lady” (Moran and Morner, 2018). The director of the library tells staff to follow the same course of action that they followed the previous day which is too assure library users that she would likely stay for a short period of and leave on her own accord. She does leave for a while but then returns to the library. Again, the library showcases an example of reactive inaction as their response to the situation. Without any policy or any guideline to refer to management, and in turn, the customer-facing staff are unable to decide and take a stance on the women’s right to use the library.

According to Moran and Morner, “the purpose of planning is to develop policies and decisions to guide the actions of individuals in the organizations (2018).” We can see early in this case study that planning is practically absent. Furthermore, on her return, customers grow more hostile to her presence as they begin to argue that as “tax paying citizens they should have the right to not be exposed to someone they find repugnant or believe to be a menacing creature (Moran and Morner, 2018).” The library staff is now in a precarious situation given the hostility of the customers who demand that something must be done. Since the hostility from their library users seems to be increasing, the Director (Joseph Calenda) convenes another meeting with the Assistant Director (Bridget O’Dea) and Department heads.

The head of the Reference Department offers up some research she has done surrounding the legality of ‘vagrancy’. She cites a law that dates back to 1880 that would make her a ‘vagrant’ in the eyes of the law and be punishable by up to six months in jail. In addition, the reference head also found a recent case from two years ago where in California a judge had ruled in opposition of previous New York court ruling which found that “appeals for money, whether for oneself or for other charities, involve a number of free speech interests protected by the First Amendment.” From her findings, the woman in question is not breaking any law. Although it is important to consider legality, this step should have been taken long before the problem arose.

As it states in, Moran and Morner, strategic thinking and planning involve being aware of your greater environment and being aware outside factors are likely to affect the fulfillment of the organization’s purpose (2018). The library is operating in a manner that has not considered its external environment and therefore has not developed a strategic plan or any policies that addresses how it plans to deal with the socioeconomic reality of the city and the resulting poverty and homelessness that the organization now has to deal with.

This lack of framing and perspective on the issue within the greater external environment is not lost on all the management personnel. After the head of the Reference Department is done sharing her findings, the Assistant Director – Bridget O’Dea says, “only if homeless people had the decency to starve or freeze to death in some obscure place where no one would ever want to see then?” She follows up with the notion that a “healthy society…should be able to help those who can’t help themselves (Moran and Morner, 2018).” The Bridget, ironically, touches on a point that neither staff nor the other library users have touched on in the case study. She doesn’t see the problem as one isolated incident of a homeless person using the library, she sees it as a much larger problem that needs to be framed in a much larger context that includes the social, political, and economic reality of the city. It also seems that she is implying that the library has a social and ethical duty that they are not upholding. Soon after she is done speaking, the Director’s assistant walks in to inform everyone that someone has complained to the Mayor’s office and is now waiting for a call back from the Director to see what he plans on doing about the women hanging out in the front lobby.

Analysis of Case Study

 Primary Problem

The primary problem for Bay Bridges is that it has failed to be aware of their external environment and therefore has not put the right policies in place to deal with how it is impacting their organization. This has also led to an organizational culture that lacks shared values and is plagued withy division in terms of user access. More specifically, I feel that these problems are symptoms of a much larger issue, the real primary problem – the limitations of there current strategic plan. These limitations from a top down framework have failed to create the policies and guidelines needed at the low level (customer service, front facing staff) to aid in the decision-making process and have failed to incorporate a system of shared values related to user access that drive the organizational culture.

Secondary Problem

There seems to be a hierarchical nature of the issues the Bay Bridges Public is dealing with that all extend from the limitation of there current Strategic Plan. The most obvious secondary problem is the lack of policy or guidelines that are in place that staff or management can refer to when making decision about user access and homeless people. The next problem, as a result of the lack policies is that the organizational culture has become divided on the issue of user access. This problem can be attributed to a lack of shared values amongst the library which I believe can also be traced back to the limitations of a Strategic Plan. In extension of these problems, mainly the lack of policies or guidelines about user access, has resulted in many other library users to become upset.

Assumption

The overarching assumption that I am making is that the current strategic plan has many limitations. These limitations have resulted in negatively impacting policies and guidelines for staff to refer to and has also failed in creating an organizational culture based on shared values. I assuming that these limitations as a whole are due to a lack of understanding of the external environment and its socioeconomic reality. For the sake of this analysis, I am also assuming that current socioeconomic state of the city has existed for 2-5 years and has not come about rapidly and the library has had and will have time to adjust to its environment.

Objectives for Solution

The objectives that need to be accomplished are related to one another in a hierarchical relationship. In respect to homelessness, Wong (2009) argues that homelessness in public libraries is only a problem because most libraries are not handling the situation in the most effective way. First, the library needs develop clearly defined guidelines that dictate who can and who cannot use the library. This directly involves gaining a better understanding of its external environment so the Bay Bridges Public Library can strategize ways to handle it. Furthermore, the last objectives that need to be accomplished are to cultivate a culture within the library amongst staff and its users that is focused on serving all parts of the public regardless of socioeconomic standing.

Solutions

The potential solutions are:

Evaluate Strategic Plan – Modify or Start from Scratch

Calenda and O’Dea as well as the other department heads need to come together to review the Strategic Plan. They need to consider modifying or creating a new strategic plan that accounts for their external environment so they can respond to it. This review should be done after the library conducts a PEST analysis (seeking to under the various environmental & external factors are impacting the organization) and compares those findings to a SWOT analysis that is conducted in parallel (Moran and Morner, 2018). Depending on the findings of this analysis I would recommend modifying their current strategic plan or creating a completely new one that is more relevant and reflective of reality and the external environment. They should also pay specific attention to there current mission, goals, and values which would address the division that exists within the organizational culture (Moran and Morner, 2018).

Establish Consistent Library Practices for Front Line Staff (Policies, Guidelines) 

Wong suggests that public libraries establish “comprehensive, consistent, and enforceable” policies which regulate access and user behaviour while developing “guidelines to promote the principal of equal access” while establishing boundaries which define acceptable behaviour within the library (2009). The Bay Bridges Public library should model its policies and strategic plan with the Library Bill of Rights in mind. It should pay specific attention to the subsection that focuses on access to people who are economically disadvantaged (Wong, 2009). It states that people experiencing poverty or homelessness are a large portion of users in many libraries and this population offers the library an opportunity to change lives and that therefore libraries are responsible to effectively respond to their needs and ensure that barriers to access are limited (2006).

Increase Public Awareness and Community Advocacy Through the Creation of Comittees and Partnerships –

Utilize Bridget’s perception of homelessness being a much larger social and community problem by using her authority as the Assistant Director by giving her the opportunity to create partnerships with local social service providers as well as anti-poverty groups too help the homeless (Wong, 2009). In addition to Bridget expanding partnerships also allow her to develop training modules for staff to help them become more aware of the information needs of the homeless and why the library is just as, if not more important, for them. This would also help in reinforcing shared values amongst the staff and well help cultivate a culture of equal access to all (Wong, 2009).

Hire a Security Team –

Joseph Calenda could either create an in-house security team or could contract out security guards to work at the library. From a management stand point this is reasonable and justifiable because of the increased rate of crime within the community. This would help staff and other library users feel more secure and safe within the walls of the organization.

Conclusion

I would argue that all four solutions should be implemented because they are mutually inclusive and reinforce the effectiveness of the other. However, for the sake of this case study, I would choose the first solution: Evaluate Strategic Plan and then depending on the evaluation as well as the findings of the PEST and SWOT analysis I would modify the current strategic plan or I would begin to develop a new strategic plan that takes the current external environment into consideration. I feel that this is the best solution because if we modify or develop a new strategic plan it will be based a set of shared values and will result in policies and guidelines that directly address our current environment. Furthermore, I believe the development of more up to date policies and a shared value system would result in the eventual implementation of the three other solutions that were proposed because they all directly seek to deal with the impact the external environment is having on the organization in the most optimal way.

Implications

The implication of my solution is that there may be a need to develop a new strategic plan. This solution would impact Bay Bridges Public library and could result in some serious disruption and change within the organization. However, this phase of disruption and change is necessary because a modified or newly developed strategic plan will provide them with a framework to successfully move into an uncertain future but have the flexibility to adapt to any emerging issues, an ability they currently do not have (Moran and Morner, 2018).

Comments

This case study illustrates the hierarchical nature of strategic planning and how it impacts policies and guidelines of an organization as well as its culture. It shows the importance of not only creating a strong and robust strategic plan but constantly evaluating it to ensure that it is relevant and reflective of reality that takes the external environment into consideration (Moran and Morner, 2018). Otherwise you increase the likelihood of ending up with a high level of fragmentation in terms ineffective policies and a fractured culture.

References

American Library Association. (2006). Economic Barriers to Information Access. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/librarybill/interpretations/economicbarriers (Accessed February 1, 2018)

Anderson, A.J. Case Study: Planning: Is this a Public Library or Refuge for the Homeless? In Moran, B. B., & Morner, C. J. (2018). Library and information center management (9th ed., Vol. 1, Library and Information Science). Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, LLC. Retrieved from: https://www.abc- clio.com/Portals/0/StudentResources/A3663C/263280.PDF

Moran, B. B., & Morner, C. J. (2018). Library and information center management (9th ed., Vol.1, Library and Information Science ). Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, LLC.

Wong, Y. L. (2009). Homelessness in Public Libraries. Journal of Access Services, 6(3), 396- 410. doi:10.1080/15367960902908599

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