In recent years the public library has become a target for society's otherwise unoccupied. It has taken on unintended roles: day care, cafe, career center for the unemployed, public washroom for the homeless. Fewer patrons come for more traditional purposes: information, education, reading, chess club, quilting bee.

The community clearly has a need for those nontraditional functions, and while they may be provided by other institutions -- homeless shelter, day care center -- the library is often preferable as a free, clean, uplifting modern environment that lacks the stigma of a welfare center or commercial establishment by virtue of being the traditional temple of public knowledge. Additionally, the staff are not trained in social work and so the public can act with a degree of autonomy.

You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink; you can build a center for miscellaneous use -- showers, Internet, day care -- but where these exist some people will still prefer the library, maybe for convenience, subterfuge, one-stop shopping, or the aforementioned stigma of taking welfare.

The solution is to build a community center for miscellaneous, autonomous use, but dress it up as a library. Provide showers and toilets, a children's room, and Internet-capable desktop computers. But also fill it with shelves of books and a staff of librarian-ish social workers. The most important detail: call it a Library with a capital L. "Garfield Memorial Public Library." Betray nothing of its true purpose: to give peace to the staff and legitimate patrons of the real library.

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