I have to comment on the story about how the Maplewood Memorial Library is closing its doors in the afternoon after school lets out because they are over-run with misbehaving students they are not staffed to serve.
Too few bibliobloggers are posting the link to the announcement from the library’s Board of Trustees explaining the decision. Please, don’t leave any comments here or elsewhere without reading it. Here’s an excerpt:
Over the years, an increasing number of families have been sending their children, primarily of middle-school age, to the main and branch libraries after school and using the facilities as a substitute for childcare. Most of these students are not using library resources but are congregating in the building to socialize with friends. Having as many as fifty young people with nothing to do creates an untenable situation. It interferes with patrons of all ages who want to use the library and with the staff members who are there to serve them. The library can no longer deal with large numbers of students who come after school and wait, sometimes into the late evening, to be picked up. We do not have the staff or resources to address the needs of these students.
We have struggled with this problem for over ten years. We have worked with legal counsel to study our options as a public institution and to develop a behavior policy. We have hired after-school monitors to help with crowd control and behavior issues. We have reached out to students through TAG, our Teen Advisory Group. We have notified parents of the problem through Home and School Association publications. We have made public officials aware of the on-going issue. And we have worked closely with school officials and law enforcement. In spite of these efforts, the problem persists.
I have sympathy for the library administration and staff, who should not have to be police and parents to these children who have been abandoned to the library by parents unable or unwilling to parent. I have sympathy for the kids who aren’t getting the supervision they need from their families. I have sympathy for the library patrons who are being cheated of use of the public library by the presence of too many misbehaving kids or by the afternoon closings.
The real problem:
The parents and families of these kids are unable or unwilling to provide the supervision the kids need. The problem isn’t that the library needs better teen programming. If that was the case, there’d be NO teenagers in the building.
Who is responsible for finding a solution?
Depending on your politics, this might be a problem for which the state, county or town is responsible to find a remedy, there are multiple government agencies responsible for addressing public nuisance and absentee parents. Their responsibilities should not be foisted off on libraries.
I don’t think that those who abuse a library should be pacified into good behavior, they should be tossed out. Pacifying them takes too much money that is better spent serving information needs. Libraries shouldn’t ADAPT to the problem of unsupervised, undisciplined teens, they should REJECT it, and demand that the appropriate government agencies who can address the problem do. If the problem was that no teens ever came to the Maplewood Memorial Library, I’d accept as reasonable the criticism that they need better programs for teens- but that’s not the problem they’re having.
I was really surprised by this comment from Michael Casey:
“How ironic that the best solution appears not to be coming from within the library itself but from the community that is fighting to keep its library open.”
This surprised me because it isn’t at all ironic- not even a little bit. The problem isn’t the library failing in its mission, the problem is that the community has families who cannot or will not supervise their children. The library can’t build a youth center. The library can’t pass laws making parents more responsible for the misbehavior of their kids. The library can’t raise the minimum wage. The library can’t convince absentee parents to reassess their responsibilities and finances. It isn’t ironic that the town takes responsibility for a solution, it is entirely and utterly appropriate.
What might some solutions be?
The town or state might pass laws that might make parents take greater responsibility for the behavior of the children they cannot or will not parent. The town or state might fund a lot more security (how about uniformed police officers?) for the library so that those who disrupt its use are ejected promptly. The town or state might build a youth center staffed for dealing with misbehaving kids. All of this needs to be funded by the town.
The original NYT article (taken apart a bit here) begins and ends with the assumption that the library staff and board are wrong. Since most of us commenting don’t work there, we should be very skeptical about embracing that assumption as truth. It isn’t a fair assumption to make, and I dislike seeing bibliobloggers criticize the Maplewood Library from afar.
I should point out that I really respect Michael Stephens for acknowledging that he “lives in a bubble” and for attempting to offer actual suggestions for tackling the problem, but it seems to me that the problem isn’t caused by a botched analysis of usage patterns. The problem is that parents are dropping their responsibilities on libraries. There are some social ills that libraries are not responsible for solving. They’re not funded for it, equipped for it, or trained for it.
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