The Man in the Yellow Van

Who Belongs at the Library?

Roz Warren
Jan 21 · 4 min read
Photo by Lachlan on Unsplash

For as long as I worked at my small suburban library, the man in the yellow van was a regular, and for just as long, library patrons complained about him. Over the years, a steady stream of folks came up to the circulation desk to kvetch about the guy.

Why?

Every morning, Sam parked his battered van in our parking lot, then spent the rest of the day between the van and the library. Although we had no idea what he did during the long hours he spent in the van, when in the library, he’d sit down at a table, spread his belongings around him and read — like any other patron.

“An Upscale Community”

“This is a public library,” I’d respond, “and he’s a member of the public. He has as much right to be here as you do.”

“He doesn’t really belong here.” “This is an upscale community! That van is an eyesore!”

Sam’s van had definitely seen better days. It was old and battered and needed a paint job.

But so did my 2002 Toyota.

“Can’t you do something?” the complainers would ask.

“What would you like us to do?”

“Get rid of him!”

“The library is not in the business of getting rid of our patrons. We only ban patrons from the library for cause, and then reluctantly.”

“There are services available for homeless people,” they’d point out.

“And if he ever asks us to help him find some, we will. In the meantime? The way our patrons chose to live is none of our business.”

Besides, Sam wasn’t homeless. He did have a home. A mobile home.

But that wasn’t the point. Even if he had been homeless, we wouldn’t have kicked him out of the library. Providing a safe space for people who had nowhere else to go was part of how we served our community.

A Safe, Quiet Space

“Has he done anything to bother you?” I always asked the complainers. Certain behaviors get you banned from the library. Pan handling. Harassing or threatening people. Even smelling too badly.

“I bring my children here! And last week he was sitting in a van in your parking lot — without a shirt on!

“How is that hurting your children?”

The way I saw it, Sam wasn’t hurting anyone. Instead, he was providing a valuable lesson to our more entitled patrons about the fact that there are things in life that they just couldn’t control.

“He’s trespassing!”

“Actually, he’s not.”

The trespasser

She thought she was alone in the building. Then she heard a loud crash.

When she went to investigate, she found him sprawled on the floor of the quiet reading room, knocked out. He’d fallen through the ceiling.

Now that’s trespassing.

“A little safer”

And yet the complaints about his very existence were endless.

One week a woman approached me at the circulation desk. “You know that yellow van your parking lot?” she began.

I braced myself for another complaint.. But she surprised me.

“I was happy to see Sam’s van in your lot,” she said. “I always wondered where he spent the day. I live around the block. He usually parks the van on our street at night.”

“Is that a problem?”

“Oh no,” she said. “We’re glad he’s there. His parking on the street each night is kind of like a neighborhood watch. He really knows the block, and he pays attention. When I return home alone at night, I always feel a little safer knowing that he’s there.”

I wanted to hug her.

Who are we here for?

It stopped bothering them.

In fact I would occasionally see someone who had once urged us to get rid of Sam enjoying a conversation with him.

Your local public library is here for everyone, and we value all our patrons. Whether you drive a Tesla or an old Toyota. Whether you’re a CEO or a child-care worker. Whether you live in a mansion or in your van. We serve the entire community and we’ll do our best to be there for you.

I only wish that the rest of the world could be more like the library.

( Writing Coach and Medium Sherpa Roz Warren writes for everyone from the Funny Times to the New York Times, has been in 13 Chicken Soup for the Soul collections, and is the author of Our Bodies, Our Shelves: Library Humor . Drop her a line at roSwarren@gmail.com.)(This essay originally ran in the Broad Street Review and is reposted here with permission.)

It’s a Hardback Life

Essays & Humor about Life, Love and the Library by Roz Warren

Roz Warren

Written by

Writing Coach/Medium Sherpa Roz Warren(https://muckrack.com/roz-warren) (roSwarren@gmail.com) writes for everyone from the New York Times to the Funny Times.

It’s a Hardback Life

Blather, Gibberish & Malarkey by Roz Warren

Roz Warren

Written by

Writing Coach/Medium Sherpa Roz Warren(https://muckrack.com/roz-warren) (roSwarren@gmail.com) writes for everyone from the New York Times to the Funny Times.

It’s a Hardback Life

Blather, Gibberish & Malarkey by Roz Warren

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