Home to students, booklovers and researchers alike, the Grande Bibliothèque du Québec also attracts some of the city’s homeless citizens, looking to put a place to rest their feet.
In 2012, the Grande Bibliothèque saw a total of 600 interventions related to homeless or intoxicated people requiring a call to security.
Library user Amelia Proulx said she’s witnessed a few interactions between security guards and homeless people but she remembers one in particular.
"He was lying down. He was just sleeping, and his belly was exposed. At some point, suddenly I look over, and his hands are in his pants," she said.
"It just made me really, really uncomfortable, and so I just felt compelled to do something about it. I called security, and I left the area. They had him removed from the area. [It] sounded like this was common.”
Everyone welcome, says library head
Hélène Roussel, the executive-director of library services at the Grande Bibliothèque, said that given an average of 9,000 visitors each day, the number of interventions is low.
"We say welcome to everyone," she said.
"We believe strongly in inclusive libraries so everyone is welcome. But there are rules to obey, and if some do not, well, we intervene."
Roussel said most of the interventions that took place last year were related to illicit drug use, and the library has installed needle disposal bins in three of its ten bathrooms to deal with that issue.
Just don't shut your eyes, visitor says
Pascal Posé is homeless and a frequent visitor to the Grande Bibliothèque.
He said he likes going to the library for the quiet and calm environment, but as soon as he closes his eyes, a security guard is there right away.
“I feel good, as long I don't get bugged because my eyes [are] closed,” he said.
"It's hard," Posé added. "It's mostly because people don't understand really that we don't have a place to go. You can't just go anywhere, so as soon as you sit down, bang, ‘get out.’”
Dealing with the homeless is not a problem unique to Montreal, and some libraries are taking the problem head on. Two years ago, the San Francisco Public Library hired a social worker to help deal with visitors with nowhere else to go.
“What she does is she talks to and helps out patrons that are library patrons, are library users, to get them connected with services for housing and mental health,” Michelle Jeffers, the library spokesperson said.
For now, Roussel said she is confident the library is doing the right thing, in the way it deals with its homeless clientele.