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Multi District Workshop: Homelessness and Difficult Patrons

Ryan Dowd, a nationally sought after speaker and author of The Librarian’s Guide to Homelessness, led a four hour workshop for 60 librarians and library staff of the five county Lehigh Valley region in eastern PA on August 5, 2019.

Ryan serves as the Executive Director of a large homeless shelter outside of Chicago, and trains libraries, nonprofits, police departments, hospitals, and other organizations how to compassionately manage problematic behavior from troubled individuals.  Ryan is also a licensed attorney and has a Master’s of Public Administration, all of which lends authority and real world credibility to his workshops.

While advertised as training that is “part ‘how to understand your homeless patrons’ and part ‘how to work with difficult patrons,” all of the attendees agreed that the knowledge and tools presented could be useful in a variety of situations and could be applied to many more people and groups than just a library’s homeless population.  Ryan deftly incorporated aspects of biology, brain chemistry, sociology, and psychology to give a broad picture of the mindset and needs of individuals from disadvantaged or marginalized groups that was eye-opening for the workshop participants.

Libraries are routinely labeled as one of  the “last bastions of democracy,” with the direct implication that we are open to every member of the community, and that we strive to eliminate the barriers between information and the public.  However, human nature being what it is, and the necessity of maintaining some semblance of order and structure in library service, library staff often have to deal with patrons that may not fit in the mold of the traditional library user.  Workshops such as these serve as valuable reminders to staff to always practice inclusion, to move from bigotry to empathy, and to focus on creating relationships.  Ryan gave attendees various tools to accomplish this, from mindset and pre-conflict tools to non-verbal, verbal and crisis pointers to assist in meeting the needs of everyone who comes through our doors.

In addition to his live workshops, Ryan also offers an online option with access to training modules for 1 year that employees can complete at their convenience.


Submitted by:
Mark Sullivan
District Consultant Librarian
Allentown Public Library

This event was made possible, in part, by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences as administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Education through the Office of Commonwealth Libraries, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Tom Wolf, Governor.

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