Berkeley Public Library expands access to resources for homeless people

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Residents who previously experienced obstacles in obtaining access to Berkeley Public Library resources and items will no longer face this issue with the implementation of a new Easy Access Card, which allows those without a permanent address to use and check out library resources.

The Easy Access Cards were implemented by the library Saturday and will most benefit people who cannot provide proof of residency, including homeless people, foster children and people in the transition of moving to a new residence, according to acting director of library services Elliot Warren.

The Easy Access Cards allow patrons to check out up to three items at at once. Patrons with the new card can also use library computers and in-house laptops, and have full access to online databases and services, according to the Berkeley Public Library website. Those who wish to obtain an Easy Access card do not need to show proof of residence — a valid photo ID is required, however.

“Staff, managers and the board are happy to champion this and lead the way,” Warren said.

The Easy Access Card is a “key step” toward the library’s goal to champion and demonstrate social and racial equity by reducing barriers to library card ownership, according to Warren. He added that the library’s goal is to create an experience with less “friction” for patrons — to provide access to reading, not a “bureaucratic mess.”

Berkeley resident Reginald Johnson said he comes to the library almost every day to use the library laptops. Johnson was previously homeless, but is now living in a home and has his own library card. He said that during the time he was homeless he would have enjoyed using and having access to the Easy Access Card.

According to Warren, it took a few months to create a solution that allowed residents who lacked proof of residency to have access to a library card.

“It didn’t take too long,” Warren said. “It didn’t take years and years … but it took a good amount of discussion and input.”

With the implementation of the Easy Access Card, it is easier and more convenient for residents without a permanent address to use library computers. Previously, residents who wanted to use a computer and did not have a library card had to obtain a temporary pass each time they accessed the computers. The library, however, wanted to allow residents who didn’t have the means to obtain a library card to have independent access to library resources, according to Warren.

Now, patrons with an Easy Access Card can use computers without needing a temporary pass, which is still offered to people visiting from out of town and for other temporary uses.

Warren said that every time someone checks out a book, there is a risk that it will not be returned. In order to address this issue, the library is limiting the number of items patrons can check out with the Easy Access Card to three items.

Berkeley resident Rebecca Elish said she thinks the Easy Access Card is a great way to provide library access to homeless people.

“Everyone deserves to read,” Elish said. “Keeping people’s minds and learning engaged is good.”

Contact Julie Madsen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @Julie_Madsen_.