Newmarket library's letter advising patrons of body odour creates a stink

The Newmarket Public Library's attempt to "gently" notify some of its patrons of body odour in a letter ended up creating a stink of its own.

Letter cannot ban a library user

The Newmarket Public Library's attempt to "gently" notify some of its patrons of body odour in a letter has ended up creating a stink of its own.

After fielding several complaints, the library crafted a letter to notify patrons who may have a "persistent, noticeable odour" to "take steps to control this odour." The letter also points out free public shower and laundry facilities nearby.

However, the library's CEO, Todd Kyle, told CBC News the attempt at a "dignified" notice is instead being viewed by some as discriminating or embarrassing to homeless people.

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Kyle emphasized the intent of the letter was not to stigmatize homeless people or other vulnerable persons who often use the library's facilities. However, he admitted it is difficult to convey to a person "in a dignified manner that people have complained about your smell."

"I can't think of a very completely non-embarrassing way."

He also noted complaints on odour can extend to those who use heavy scents like perfumes or colognes. 

"People have suggested that it might not be the most dignified way to get the message across. I haven't heard that from the specific people involved," Kyle said of two letters the library has issued to date.

People who receive the letter are not automatically banned from the library and Kyle said that is not its purpose.

"We often get complaints: 'Why are these people here? And why do I have to sit next to them?'"

Kyle said the library will only speak to a person or ask them to leave over a behavioural issue like harassment or being too noisy, never their appearance. 

He added that other libraries and public institutions may encounter similar issues.

"To us this was a way of trying to get it across as gently and as dignified as possible. Will it make some people feel uncomfortable if they receive it? I don't doubt it would."

Kyle said the library will review the letter as well as consult with organizations that work with homeless or at-risk people.

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