Auckland Central Library, in New Zealand’s largest city, has a long history of providing for the city’s homeless population. After a local charity told administrators that the library served as a kind of “lounge” for people with no fixed address, they welcomed them into the space, asked what the library could do better, and organized regular screenings in the boutique cinema in the basement. But when books started going missing, and then reappeared in unusual, hidden places within the library, often with proper bookmarks in them, librarians were puzzled and didn’t make a connection.
“It was really odd and we couldn’t quite figure it out,” Auckland Libraries manager Rachael Rivera told The Guardian. “We thought someone was playing with us, or it was bored kids.” It was only in one of their regular meetings with the library’s homeless patrons that the solution revealed itself. Unable to get library cards without an address, or fearing damage to books that they checked out, many people had been tucking their books beneath couches or under shelves so that they could return to them without losing their place.
“That community really values the services we offer and treats the books with a great deal of respect,” Rivera told the British newspaper. “A lot of the guys that come in are extremely well-read and have some quite eccentric and highbrow literary tastes. People are homeless for so many different reasons, and being intelligent and interested in literature doesn’t preclude that.” The library has since established a special bookshelf behind the front desk to store books for this group of about 50 homeless readers.
New Zealand has some of the highest rates of homelessness among developed nations, with almost one percent of the population, or about 40,000 people, regularly “sleeping rough.” It’s a particular problem in Auckland, where housing prices have soared in the past few years. The library, which is off the main shopping strip, often has a group of people sheltering under its awning or using the benches by its front door.