Liz Spikol has a great entry today about the Treatment Advocacy Center’s (TAC) press release about how mental illness affects our nation’s public libraries. The Treatment Advocacy Center is the organization that prefers that anyone who has mental illness get treatment, even if it’s against their will. Think of it as a stodgy old grandfather from the 1800s that might say, “Hitting a child is necessary and good for the child; the more often the better! Teaches them some manners…”
Liz details the problems with the survey by TAC of librarians:
Are library employees qualified to determine who has serious psychiatric disorders? I doubt it. I suspect they wouldn’t identify me as one of those people, but I’m guessing every disheveled person gets tarred with that brush, no matter the issue. And let’s not forget the classicism and racism that makes such observations inherently problematic. If a black guy in dirty clothes comes into a library and spends a lot of time on the web, is he going to be seen as the same as a white woman in clean clothes (like me)? Who’s more likely to be called “crazy,” despite whatever behaviors?
Even assuming that people with psych disorders do use the library — which I know is true, particularly when their situation coincides with poverty — why can’t they? So what if they have odd behaviors? Are they any less entitled to access the resources? People with disabilities have a right to be accommodated.
TAC’s ostensible point is that:
“Our nation’s libraries are turning into daytime shelters for people with severe mental illness who need to be in treatment. The fact that libraries remain a safe haven from violence and life on the streets for people with mental illness is a sad commentary. Doing so devalues human life and the importance of libraries in our communities.”
As Spikol notes, this is not a new problem, but it’s also not one to be particularly concerned about. I remember going into the city’s public library in Wilmington, Del. 20 some years ago as a young adult and noticing the number of homeless who would sit there and read the paper, a magazine, or a book in the public reading room. Are people with mental illness not citizens of the U.S.? Do they not have the same rights as other citizens, including the right to use the library unaccosted?
The Treatment Advocacy Center, rather than being a positive advocate for people with mental illness, is a sad blemish in the world of mental health advocacy. The TAC press release’s only apparent purpose is to scare people into thinking that someone with a mental health diagnosis is someone to be scared of. Shame on TAC. Instead of helping educate people about the fact that folks with mental illness are not only just like you and me — they are you and me — they focus on making people with mental illness out to be something to be feared.
And I have to say, I’m disappointed by some of the comments by librarians highlighted in the press release. I have nothing but respect for librarians and have worked in a few libraries in my life. But really, rather than helping educate their patrons about mental illness, they seem to accept other people’s stigmatizing and ignorant attitudes without question. This may just be TAC’s spin on the survey results, however, which is difficult to discern without looking at the survey article itself. The numbers sure sound impressive:
The survey of 1,300 public libraries finds that 9 out of 10 library staff members said that patrons with a mental illness have disturbed or affected the use of the library…
But the last paragraph notes that actually only 124 librarians returned the survey. It’s not clear why the huge discrepancy exists (sent surveys versus those returned? which would be an abysmal 9% return rate).
The survey’s results are supposed to be available in the “March/April issue of American Libraries, the journal of the American Library Association.” Yet the supposed journal, which is actually the magazine of the American Library Association (sorry, it’s not a peer-reviewed journal), has a March issue and an April issue, and neither appear to contain the survey.
What a sad day for the Treatment Advocacy Center, reduced to maligning people with a mental illness because some people like to spend time in a public library.
Read the full entry: The Trouble With Spikol » I Am a Threat to Your Library!
Read TAC’s survey press release: Straining America’s Libraries