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Canvassing Conundrum

by on February 29, 2016

I recently read of a public library that has begun sending people door to door to register residents for library cards, similar to the manner that politicians canvass[1]. They were offering a how-to webinar for others to do the same. The situation immediately took me aback. Not that long ago, a fairly high-level business executive beat up an Uber driver who couldn’t understand his drunken request for a ride. In a town near me, a pastor, seeking an inexpensive cell phone for his son, ended up hospitalized after meeting with a Craigslist seller. The attack occurred in the daylight, in a public location, and with several witnesses. The thought of approaching an unknown person’s home fills me with fear.

There was a time I would have argued that context was important. As long as one was in a crowd or had witnesses or was linked with something well established, they would be safe. A Lyft- orUber-like ride was probably just fine. After all, the drivers are screened, there would be an electronic trail linking the driver and rider, and it would be foolish for a person—be it driver or passenger—who was registered with a company to engage in a serious crime. They would surely be caught. Yet searching “Uber” or “Lyft” and “crime” in Google results in millions of hits and summaries of existing and recent incidents.[2]

When I was a young and foolish undergraduate, I briefly worked in political activism going door-to-door, hoping to enlighten minds and change the world. I lasted one shift with a partner who was training me. It was not only terrifying, but demoralizing. The people who were ”interested” and friendly were more disconcerting than those that called us names, slammed doors in our face or, yes, threw things at us. Those few hours on a nice, upper-middle-class suburban street made me look at every crime movie differently, prevented me from hitchhiking—ever—and assured I would not run for public office.

I would argue that going door-to-door for any reason is an inherent danger. After all, canvassing rules say to never go inside the house, try not to be alone, and disengage immediately if you sense anything amiss. Many locations require those going door-to-door to register and carry a government ID card to identify you as legitimate Some places ban the practice altogether citing safety concerns, for both those inside the house and outside.

I believe in libraries. I believe that library cards are important. Oddly, I even believe that most people are good and not harmful; however, I also believe all it takes is one who is dangerous for horrible consequences.

I see library card drives as having good potential. I also admit in today’s political climate, all things and places have risks. But if librarians decide to take card registration to the streets, I’d prefer to see us, like Scouts, camped out in front of our local supermarkets or in our local malls.


[1] John Chrastka. “I Don’t Need Two Forms of ID When I’m Standing at Your Door,” Library Journal, September 24, 2013.

[2] “’Ridesharing’ Incidents,” Who’s Driving You? [blog], accessed February 11, 2016.

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