Edmonton Public Library targets homeless, bans sleeping in the stacks

As of May 1st, staff will wake up anyone found dozing. The library says some branches are becoming de facto day shelters for homeless people.
(Photo: Edmonton Public Library)
Listen6:04

People have been known to fall asleep at the library. But, in Edmonton, snoozing will soon be forbidden. In a few weeks, staff at public libraries in the city will start waking up anyone getting some shut-eye among the books.

The move ends a four-year period where people were free to nap in Edmonton Public Library buildings.

"We thought, 'We're a socially-responsible organization. We're compassionate. What would it hurt?'," the city's Library Director Louise Reimer tells As It Happens co-host Carol Off. "What we realized is that we didn't understand. We thought people might doze off for 10 minutes and then wake up."

Instead, she says, some were sleeping in the library all day, from opening time until closing.

"We grew to understand that this is a symptom of a deeper problem in that there really aren't adequate day shelters in Edmonton for homeless people."

Staff recently did a tally of how many people were nodding off at the downtown location. Over 12 days, they counted about 450 people who were sleeping for prolonged periods of time.

Reimer says the Edmonton Library is speaking with groups that work with socially vulnerable people about alternatives. But she admits, at the moment, there are none.

She says the decision not to allow people sleep in the library comes, in part, because some library patrons are unsettled by it. Staff also worry that those who are asleep might actually be ill. 

But she adds, "More than that, it's really thinking about what is it that we do as a library ... We really don't have the staff expertise and the role to be a day shelter."

Reimer says the library's staff, which includes three social workers, will not simply boot people out for dozing off. They will wake them up, make sure they're OK and ask them if they need help. But if anyone ignores repeated warnings not to sleep, they'll be asked to leave for the day.

"We're not going to be hard-nosed about it. We're going to be compassionate," she says.

Staff are already warning patrons about the new no-sleeping rule. And Reimer believes that people will comply.

"I expect perhaps a sense of dejection," she says. "But I'm not expecting that people won't cooperate."

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