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Out of sight does not mean out of mind

New library entry policies highlight issue of homelessness in the city

Getting a table at Alexander Library on the College Avenue campus can be really difficult sometimes, and good luck to anyone who might actually want to get comfortable and find an empty armchair or sofa. Overcrowding is often an issue, and in addition to students studying and doing homework, the libraries are free and open to the public. Many people who are homeless or need a warm place to stay can be found sitting or sleeping around the building.

As of next Sunday, Nov. 16, Rutgers libraries will implement a new policy that restricts entry after 10 p.m. to only University students by requiring everyone to swipe in with their Rutgers student ID card for access. The policy of checking IDs to increase security was considered several years ago, but ultimately ruled out because it would require too many personnel and was unrealistic. Now, however, it has become apparent that the measure is a necessary one because of overcrowding in the libraries. It’s sometimes almost impossible to find an empty table (or even just one seat) to work at in the library, especially now that it’s crunch time with only about five weeks left of the semester before final exams.

The issue here isn’t that having homeless or needy people seeking shelter in the library poses any serious safety or security threat — and students shouldn’t have such a racist, classist attitude by assuming that in the first place. According to the library administration, non-student visitors to the library do not commit crimes such as theft (which is an unfortunately common occurrence all around campus) any more than students. Instead, the problem is that as unfortunate as the issue of homelessness throughout New Brunswick is, we simply do not have the room to house people in our libraries. The libraries serve the purpose of providing a workspace for students to use — one that seems to be shrinking more and more with an influx of students and people who need shelter. 

Homelessness is clearly a serious issue in New Brunswick, and we should be concerned about the accessibility of shelters around the city to provide for those who need them. There is a men’s shelter and a women’s shelter within walking distance of central New Brunswick, but there should be several shelters available that are more inclusive and have the capacity to provide a safe place. Ideally, it would be great if the University and surrounding community could collaborate to seriously address this issue and come up with feasible, practical solutions that benefit the entire community. The point is, limiting access to the libraries definitely shouldn’t mean sweeping the issue under the rug.

The implementation of this new policy regarding admission into the library does absolutely nothing to address the very real problem of homelessness and poverty the New Brunswick community faces — but if people who need shelter can’t get it in the libraries, what will stop them from going to the student centers or other open University buildings instead? It’s a measure that the University needs to take to ensure we still have access to the educational resources we need as students here, and unfortunately that means cracking down and limiting entry into the libraries to students only. This policy isn’t about trying to put the issue of homelessness out of sight and out of mind. On the contrary, we really hope that students realize how serious and widespread the problem is and join local causes and service organizations to help find a solution.

For more details on the new library policy, look out for our news story about it this week in The Daily Targum and online at www.dailytargum.com.

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