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Deposit Collections in Homeless Shelters

by on February 12, 2013

Hennepin County Library (MN) is rolling out an innovative new effort to connect homeless patrons with the library system. The Shelter Deposit Program, the brainchild of substitute librarian Amy Mars[1] and coordinated and sustained by outreach librarian Dan Marcou (a 2009 Library Journal Mover & Shaker), places deposit collections in Minneapolis homeless shelters and surrounds them with library resources and activities. The project is inspired by similar work in Multnomah County (OR) and based on a successful model already in use by Hennepin County Library Outreach Services to provide deposit collections at assisted living and correctional facilities.

A pilot version of the Shelter Deposit Program is currently being rolled out and evaluated with two shelters, the Youth Opportunity Center (YouthLink) and Mary’s Place] These locations were selected because they reach a greater number of families and youth than other area shelters and can therefore have the strongest initial impact. As shelters enroll in the program, their staff are asked to complete a questionnaire about residents and their preferences so that the books in their collections can be tailored to their interests, and staff also confirm they have the space and volunteer support to sustain a collection. One difference between the shelter collections and other deposit collections currently provided by Hennepin County is that the shelter’s will be made up primarily of donated and weeded books. This creates an important benefit for shelter patrons in that they won’t have to worry about when and how they return books—a real concern for highly mobile people living with homelessness. The donated books will be supplemented with new purchases using funds from Library Friends groups and, possibly, small grants.

What makes the program stand out, though, is that it will not just be a passive placement of books in shelters. The library will supplement the books with display racks of materials about library events and services and also provide on-site programming. Successful outreach programs, such as booktalking at the County Home School, OneRead in the adult correctional facility, and volunteer maintenance of the deposit collections at assisted living facilities, can all be replicated in the shelter setting. HCL Outreach Services has a longstanding tradition of hiring library student interns (this project began in Amy Mars’ internship, and I am also a “graduate” of their training) and will continue to use future interns and a strong base of volunteers to keep the program running.

One thing libraries and library systems may not give much thought to is careful curation of their weeded materials, but donation-based projects like this one show that a great deal of value can be derived from materials that are no longer needed in popular circulation. Similar projects, like one I established at a Minneapolis charter high school using donated books that had been weeded from the Hennepin County Home School, demonstrate that this is an idea that can be replicated by volunteers and minimally-staffed institutions with varying levels of support from the library. I expect great success from the Shelter Deposit Program and look forward to reading about their findings in a future public

[1] Also see her article, “Library Service to the Homeless,” in the March/April 2012 issue of Public Libraries Magazine.