Bibliophiles prefer Iowa City, a UNESCO City of Literature, but regional literature experts occasionally check out the Des Moines Public Library’s special collection of Iowa Writers, which includes books by forgotten Pulitzer Prize winners MacKinlay Kantor, Susan Glaspell, Margaret Wilson, Hamlin Garland, and Edna Ferber.
Here is why I have crossed the Des Moines Library off my list: I am a coward.
On September 17, a homeless man, David Franklin Smith, entered the atrium of the Des Moines Public Library, poured a flammable liquid on himself, and set himself on fire. The staff put out the flames with a fire extinguisher, and Smith was airlifted to the burn unit at the University of Iowa Hospital in Iowa City, where he died. The police concluded he committed suicide.
Somehow, it is taken for granted that libraries must double as unaccredited centers for the homeless. Libraries in San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia have hired social workers to deal with the homeless and mentally ill patrons.
Bravo! I exclaimed when I read about these initiatives.
But this problem has fallen in the laps of the libraries and should not be their responsibility. It is terrific that they have stepped up—but what choice do they have? Why doesn’t the govenment provide halfway houses, more homeless centers, and even apartments for the homelesss? Surely the streets–and the libraries–aren’t a good solution!
What a tragic world!