Library Services to Children, Teens, and Families Experiencing Homelessness

Terrile, V. C. (2009). Library services to children, teens, and families experiencing homelessness. Urban Library Journal, 15(2), 20-34
Synopsis and Core Research Questions
In the article Library Services to Children, Teens, and Families Experiencing Homelessness, Terrile describes the demographics and educational issues children and teens experiencing homelessness face every day. The author explores the role library programs can play in improving the challenges this population encounters. The author also examines some model library programs reaching out to children, teens, and families experiencing homelessness.
Persons who are homeless are one of the most marginalized populations that libraries may encounter. Policies and services that address homelessness may range from “antagonistic to welcoming and supportive” (pp 21). Most of the persons experiencing homelessness are children, with the average age being nine years old (pp 20) and families with children are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population (pp 20). Though the rate of families experiencing homelessness is rising, often young people are not considered in these counts if they are “doubling up” with other families (pp 22). Children and teens experiencing homelessness are often given little support from social service and nonprofit agencies. Additionally, homelessness affects Black and Latino persons disproportionately.
Other facts:
• Approximately 1.2 million children living in families with no secure housing (in 2007)
• Approximately 1,682,900 homeless and runaway youth (2008)
• Up to 45% of teens seeking a shelter bed were released from foster care in the previous 12 months
Obstacles that children and teens experiencing homelessness face often surround school access and achievement and include registration and transportation issues, internet access issues, access to reference books and materials, and lack of access to school supplies. Children and teens experiencing homelessness are at higher risk of bullying, higher risk of behavioral problems, literacy deficits, and developmental delays (pp 23).
Research has found that children and teens experiencing homelessness are often very skilled at making references and comparisons. These skills can be built upon by libraries by offering opportunities to integrate art with literacy for these children and teens to make connections through a “creative multidisciplinary approach.” (pp 25)
The author used literature review and personal communication with library programs to gather information.
Factors such as lack of transportation, lack of legal guardianship, proof of residency, access to records, and lack of access to child care for younger children make library accessibility challenging for children and families experiencing homelessness. Bringing library programs and services to the population is vital to creating successful programs. This means providing programs to shelters and other community areas that are easier for this population to access. Out of school programs have proven to help narrow the achievement gap with this population (pp 27). Moreover, providing literacy services to parents enhances children’s literacy as well (pp 25).
The biggest obstacle to outreach efforts to children and families experiencing homelessness is the same event that helped to cause the doubling of homeless families: the recession of 2007/2008. Libraries are seeing budget cuts and many programs are surviving only because of dedicated volunteers.
The author highlights some model programs that reach out to children and teens experiencing homelessness. These include:
• Project Horizon (since 1989) with the DeKalb County Library provides paperback deposit collections and storytellers to shelters
• The Charleston (South Carolina) County Library partnered with the Carolina Youth Development Center. Services include librarian visits to residential centers and a book club
• Akron (Ohio) Summit County Public Library and partner Project Rise provides summer reading programs to area shelters
• Camp LAPL with the Los Angeles Public Library
• The New York Public Library has been providing services to this population since 1987. Programs include “Read to Me” and Summer Story times.
Unanswered Questions and Future Research
Access seems to be the largest barrier for this population and libraries are in a unique position to assist. Libraries create access. ALA’s equity of access and ALA’s policy of Library Services to the Poor can help drive libraries to create programs and services that support children, teens, and families experiencing homelessness. “Equity of access means that all people have the information they need – regardless of age, education, ethnicity, language, income, physical limitations or geographic barriers.” (ALA 2015) The author mentions the ALA guidelines, but does not delve too deeply into how these guidelines can assist in the development of programs and services to children, teens, and families experiencing homelessness. This is an area for future development.
Terrile addresses many of the realities of extending programs to children and families who are experiencing homelessness; however there are still many opportunities for research in this area. Future articles could address developing community partnerships to provide services to this and similar (such as the “invisible” homeless ) population, and securing funds (through fundraising or grants) for outreach programs.
Despite the recession having ended and the economy rebounding, the number of children and teens experiencing homelessness does not seem to be lessening. A report from Child Trends data bank indicates that there were approximately 1.3 million students experiencing homelessness in 2012-2013, but the increase in number could be due to better reporting standards (including those who were “doubling up” with other families, etc.) Whether the reporting is better or not, this is a significant portion of the population that requires library access and services.
Ideas for Programs and Services
• Staff Sensitivity Training can eliminate the antagonistic policy trend towards persons experiencing homelessness
• Partnering with healthcare organizations, churches and other organizations
• Social Worker Services in the library
• Pairing arts and crafts and literacy programs to develop skills at which this population already excels
• Partnering with schools and school/government organizations that address homelessness in youth (these may vary from state to state or city to city, for example in Albuquerque New Mexico Child Find works with the schools to ensure children experiencing homelessness have access to education)
• Bringing services to food banks and other community organizations working with persons who are homeless.


Akron Public Schools. (2015). Project Rise. Retrieved from

American Library Association. (2015). Equity of Access. Retrieved from

American Library Association. (2015). Policy on Library Services to the Poor. Retrieved from

Child Trends Data Bank (2015, March). Homeless Children and Youth Report. Retrieved from

DeKalb Library Foundation. (2015). Retrieved from

Jenkins, M. (2014 August 27). D.C. adds a social worker to library system to work with homeless patrons. The Washington Post. Retrieved from

State Library of North Carolina. (2015, June 16). Library service to people experiencing homelessness, Forsyth County. Retrieved from

Terrile, V. C. (2009). Library services to children, teens, and families experiencing homelessness. Urban Library Journal, 15(2), 20-34. Retrieved from

One thought on “Library Services to Children, Teens, and Families Experiencing Homelessness”

  1. Your summary and comments on Terrile’s article were thorough and well-reasoned, thanks for putting this forward.
    One area that also may be open for further research, or otherwise addressed, is if homeless teens and younger children who are involved with outreach services are asked about how they would like to served. Perhaps these children and young adults could help design, create and extend services within libraries, or expand materials from libraries and community literacy organizations that are at shelters. Collaborations and partnerships with those who use and (hopefully) benefit from these services seems a natural extension of your paper and this article.

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