Saturday, January 06, 2007

Unruly Kids @Your Library

The January 2nd New York Times had a good article on what has become a major issue for many libraries: disruptive and unruly behavior by children. They cite the example of one New Jersey community:

Every afternoon at Maplewood Middle School’s final bell, dozens of students pour across Baker Street to the public library. Some study quietly.

Others, library officials say, fight, urinate on the bathroom floor, scrawl graffiti on the walls, talk back to librarians or refuse to leave when asked. One recently threatened to burn down the branch library. Librarians call the police, sometimes twice a day.

As a result, starting on Jan. 16, the Maplewood Memorial Library will be closing its two buildings on weekdays from 2:45 to 5 p.m., until further notice.

An institution that, like many nationwide, strives to attract young people, even offering beading and cartooning classes, will soon be shutting them out, along with the rest of the public, at one of the busiest parts of its day.

The article points out the way many parents treat their local library as a de facto day care center:

Librarians and other experts say the growing conflicts are the result of an increase in the number of latchkey children, a decrease in civility among young people and a dearth of “third places” — neither home nor school — where kids can be kids.

“We don’t consider the world as safe a place as it used to be, and we don’t encourage children to run around, hang around and be free,” said Judy Nelson, president of the Young Adult Library Services Association, part of the American Library Association. “So you have parents telling their kids that the library is a good place to go.”

Rowland Bennett, who served as the director of the Maplewood Memorial Library for 30 years and is now president of the local school board, said libraries had become “the child care center by necessity.”

The piece also includes comments from a librarian/professor whose view is summarized as "the students want only to be treated like everybody else." I'm sorry, but this is nonsense. My institution, even though it's an academic library, tries to serve the broader community and has had to deal with unruly teenagers and younger children. We tried to be as accomodating as we could, and in return had any number of instances where kids acted out just because they could. We were finally forced to adopt an age restriction policy (no unaccompanied children below the age of 14).

After reading the article, and based on my own experiences, I can't fault the Maplewood Memorial Library for its decision. While sadly it hurts those children who do use the library to read and to learn, it will hopefully also force the community to address the real problem: the unwillingness of some parents to take responsibility for their children and who instead expect librarians to act as babysitters.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I completely understand why this library chose to close during after school hours. When I read the article I thought it could easily describe the public library where I work. The unruly kids issue is stressful for library staff and patrons who are trying to use the library in the way it was meant to be used. Unfortunately, we get very little community support other than to scream at us that we are failing to handle our problems. It's also unfortunate that a lot of parents seem to just not care what their kids are doing after school.

2:44 PM  

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