Since this is my first crack at blogging, I am trying to catch up! I went to the Water
Works Library on January 11th. This one is TINY! It is a popular library, so it has very few books on the shelves; most of the books seem like they are on hold. It is a great option if you want a book and are going to be downtown, just have it shipped there. It is located in the old Water Works building where the Lookingglass Theater company and the Chicago visitors center are housed. It is also right across the street from the old water tower that was built some 150 years ago and now houses a small art gallery (if you come, also stop by Ghirardelli’s for a free chocolate sample). The building used to be a pumping station, but now sits in one of the busiest tourist areas in the city.
There is just a small seating area outside of the library. It include two tables and some chairs. One table was being used by some elderly ladies clipping coupons from newspapers, but the other was empty. I sat down to finish up some course planning. There were probably half a dozen people, mostly men, sitting around the nook on the chairs. Some were sleeping. Some were charging phones. People were getting up, moving around to other chairs, and leaving. More people would come, sit down, and the cycle would repeat. One guy was knocked out! He was sleeping hard! Another guy came up and sat down next to him and leaned over, saying “Wow! You can get some good sleeping here! You were OUT! This is much better than Strogers.” I found this particularly amusing because Strogers is the county hospital, and many homeless people go to the ER in the winter to escape the cold. Actually, when I was working with homeless outreach in college, we had several conversations with the guys like this about which ERs were best, where one could go to avoid the cold, and which agencies served meals when. I remember hearing stories about how long you can wait at Northwestern’s ER with a “headache.” Usually you would get a Tylenol and be discharged, but because of the back-up in patients you would be pretty low-priority. You could be there for a while before you are called to see a nurse or doctor. So, apparently the public library system is more favorable during the day to shield and protect from the elements. This is, yet, one more benefit of the public library, that is a, safe place and open for all people.
Now, as almost everyone knows, you are not allowed to sleep in the library. It was only a matter of time before the security guard came out and woke one of the guys up with one of those “Come on buddy, time for a walk.” After a few minutes, the guy left and likely moved on to the next warm establishment. The security guard, though, obviously knew people are coming in to get away from the cold and was very gracious. He could have been enforcing those rules all around and all the time, but like most workers in the city, he has patience and compassion. We don’t always see it, but time and time again I have seen security guards in public establishments bending the rules ever-so-slightly in acts of kindness and compassion
Homelessness in Chicago is pretty visible. Out first reaction is often to avoid it. We don’t like thinking about it. Many people get nervous around it. People who are homeless become part of the landscape, they cease to be real people in our eyes as we bustle about the city. However, after serving for 5 years with a student organization called Frontlines, I learned to look beyond the “problem” and see people. One of our goals was to treat all people with dignity. We sought to hear stories and learn about people’s lives. I learned not to assume anything. We don’t know people’s stories. The library is about stories, both in the books on the shelves and the people walking through the book stacks. Our stories make us human.