Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Signs of the Times

An alert reader has pointed me toward this article in the NYTimes "Lock the Library! Rowdy Students Are Taking Over." After school child care has long been an issue for public libraries and it sounds like the problem came to a head in Maplewood, N.J.

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.

My library is located directly across the street from a local junior high. Masses of students pour through the library doors at 2:45 pm. Like many folks, that is the time I usually get to the library too. I've picked up the entling and we swing by the library to grab our holds or return books.

As their old elementary school librarian, I know many of the kids there. Sometimes they tell me about the books they are reading and I tell them about new books.

Many of the kids are on the computers. A few are doing homework and the rest are at loose ends. They are rambunctious and noisy, games of chase often break out, but they will keep it down to a dull roar when admonished (regularly) by the librarian. The library staff is so professional. I have never seen one of them loose their cool with some of these young miscreants. I continue to be full of admiration for public librarians.

Linda W. Braun, a librarian and professor who has written four books about teenagers’ use of libraries, said the students want only to be treated like everybody else. “If there are little kids making noise, it’s cute, and they can run around, it’s O.K.,”

There is a difference between "making noise" and running amuck. I can only stare in amazement at the numbers of small children who are allowed by their parental units to shriek and run around (to be followed by tripping and face-planting into the carpet or smacking into library tables) which is then followed by wails of pain.

“Or if seniors with hearing difficulties are talking loudly, that’s accepted. But a teen who might talk loudly for a minute or two gets in trouble.”

Older people may talk loudly but I daresay, do not frequently employ the colorful metaphors I hear there from youthful mouths (and that I will only excuse after a near death experience involving 18-wheelers and white mega pick-ups and MY car on Interstate-10.)

She added: “The parents don’t want them, the library doesn’t want them, so they act out.”

That leaves librarians doing a job they did not sign up for: baby-sitting for kids old enough to baby-sit.

This loss of civility extends beyond the library of course and has been long lamented. Grown-ups and parents do not model good behavior.

Some time ago a choir concert was disrupted by two women who, I guess, were not there to even see their own kids sing because they talked and laughed during each choir's performance. Several other parents begged them to please take it outside but to no avail. I got so fed up that during the next applause break I turned around and told them I was starting a web page dedicated to the noisiest audience members in Texas and could I please have their names to add to it? I pointed to my camera and said I could take their photo too!
They told me I was rude and left.
Glory Be!


MotherReader said...

We've had some issues at my public library, but we've been able to keep it under control. We're not very close to the middle school or high school, but are right next to the elementary school so we mostly see a small wave of those kids. It's a hard balance between being an accessible place to go, and being a child care center for teens.

Oh, and nice job on standing up to those rude parents.

Unknown said...

My mother is a librarian, and they have the same problems at her library, both with unsupervised younger kids and with after-school teens. The library is right next door to the high school, and a lot of teens come over after school. They've had several teen fights on library property. They also have parents of younger kids who leave their kids to run around unsupervised - some even leave the library and leave their kids there! It's true that it's so hard to find a balance. The library tries to reach out to the teens and encourage them to come and make use of the library, but some of the behavior is distressing to other patrons and can be downright dangerous to library employees.

Camille said...

I always hated having to admonish kids in my school library when their parents were STANDING RIGHT THERE during Open House or Book Fair, "Please little Timmy--do not climb on the computer desk and launch yourself into oblivion" or "Please do not use the magazines as stepping stones" or "The computer mouse is NOT a hammer!"

I was just reading on the listservs about the situation your mom faces, parents who do use the public library as a day care, disappearing for hours, leaving the child there alone. Hello child protective services, I should think.