Thursday, January 04, 2007

Blown By the Wind, Trampled In Dust

Sometimes the grownups run around like toddlers: Lock the Library! Rowdy Students Are Taking Over
MAPLEWOOD, N.J., Jan. 1 — Every afternoon at Maplewood Middle School’s final bell, dozens of students pour across Baker Street to the public library. Some study quietly. The Baker Street library in Maplewood, N.J., near a middle school, will soon close from 2:45 to 5 p.m. 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.

Oh bloody hell. There's more.
This comfortable Essex County suburb of 23,000 residents, still proud of its 2002 mention in Money magazine on a list of “Best Places to Live,” is no seedy outpost of urban violence. But its library officials, like many across the country, have grown frustrated by middle schoolers’ mix of pent-up energy, hormones and nascent independence.

Increasingly, librarians are asking: What part of “Shh!” don’t you understand?

About a year ago, the Wickliffe, Ohio, library banned children under 14 during after-school hours unless they were accompanied by adults. An Illinois library adopted a “three strikes, you’re out” rule, suspending library privileges for repeat offenders. And many libraries are adding security guards specifically for the after-school hours. In Euclid, Ohio, the library pumps classical music into its lobby, bathrooms and front entry to calm patrons, including those from the nearby high school. A backlash against such measures has also begun: A middle school in Jefferson Parish, La., that requires a daily permission slip for students to use the local public library after school was threatened with a lawsuit last month by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Fortunately, some adults have a clue.
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." 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.," Ms. Braun said of standard library operating procedure. "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." She added: "The parents don’t want them, the library doesn’t want them, so they act out."

Even more than women in ladies room packs, I dislike children running around libraries. I work in a library, mostly by concealing my presence from all but the Mole People in the building's basement. This hasn't always been the case. For ten years, I worked with the public; for eight of the ten, I ran a 24-hour study hall that resembled nothing more than Dodge City when I got the job. It took a couple of years, but I turned it into a clean, organized, useful facility, chaos and all. I know what these people are up against, and it isn't what it appears.

I am not a librarian. Between me and librarianship stand two degrees and an attitude problem. That will be important to class-minded douchebags who will decide to go count their untended IRAs. Further: I hate to be the Voice of Reason. I much prefer to be the Voice of No Fucking Reason, Thank You. I see things other people don't. I talk to squirrels. The blog is called Poor Impulse Control for a reason. My grasp on capital-R Reality is faint, but sometimes crazy people speak the truth. Moving on, then. The problem isn't the library, the staff or the children. It's the town.

Urban planners know that if you build a city without places for kids to go kids will find their own places. In this case, the kids in the library aren't even the bad kids. Nope - they're somewhere else, pursuing after school activities you don't want to think about, which is what kids do. Remember? Healthy kids sit in school all day while their bodies are telling them to get up and move around. When school's over, they should be up and moving. If they're too young for jobs, they're not too young to run laps around a track. Telling them to sit down and be quiet isn't going to cut it.

Now, this is not news. Kids need exercise. Gym class isn't enough. The walk to the library isn't enough. Since the article was published, the mayor asked the library not to close its doors during after school hours. That's actually counterproductive.

On at least a temporary basis, Maplewood should close the library. Why? Because parents of these kids aren't dealing or can't deal with their children's unsupervised time. Daycare is not the function of the library, which presence masks the problem. Close the library. Calling the cops on children is a dumb bandaid solution slapped on a fairly straightforward problem. If the schools don't have adequate after school supervision, and the library is closed, then the whole town has to come to consensus regarding productive activities for kids.

So. Let it. Let's see Maplewood take on the initial hysteria, even face lawsuits, and get moving. Give the library back to the people who want to use it. Get these kids out of the library and moving. Ignoring what everyone here truly needs will only make matters worse.


Blogger Bob said...

It's tough. But ultimately the library has to deal with it. The main Elizabeth Library, a huge place two blocks from Jersey's largest high school, is packed after school. The computers are the big draw. Noisy, yes. Rarely unruly. There's also security guards. I use a small branch library, not so crowded, also a security guard there. Suggestion for Maplewood: Dig into budget, hire an off duty cop for a couple of months, back up the librarians when they ask the worst offenders to leave the premises.

3:23 PM  
Blogger Tata said...

That's probably what will happen but it will only make matters worse, as that course of action does nothing to address the causes of the problem.

That's too bad. When you see a situation like this, it's an opportunity to try something radical.

2:16 PM  

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