Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Talk Back to the Librarian!?

According to this article in the New York Times, The Maplewood Memorial Library in Maplewood, NJ, will be closing during after school hours because of the "rowdiness" of middle-school children. Apparently they "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."

Of course, closing the library is not the answer to the problem - but what is? I like this suggestion:

"David Huemer, who represents the Maplewood Township Committee on the library board, said he would like to see the current police station, which is being retired in favor of a new one, converted to a youth center.

“What we have to do now is build some long-overdue facilities and fund some programs so kids can have alternatives to hanging out,” he said."

Unfortunately, this type of problem is not unusual; I know of at least three libraries in the small state of Rhode Island that have private security details during the after-school hours. And, as evidenced by the article, this type of behavior by children can no longer be termed a "class" or "race" or "urban" problem - this kind of thing is happening in suburbia with increasing frequency.

I fully admit that I have been ultra-lucky at my job in this respect. The only time I have had any real issues with teen behavior problems was when a particular group of kids discovered that they could hack the filter and get on MySpace. Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, we get few teens in on a regular basis - my job is quiet. But that one group of kids was unbelieveable to me. The girls narrowed their eyes and ignored what I said. They called me "bitch" under their breath, and at times simply refused to get off of the computer. They would go down to the kids room and disrupt that area if they were told to get off of the computers in the adult/YA area. The outright defiance, anger, and disrepect just amazed me - and I'm not that old. But I am old enough that I was raised in a whole different manner than children are being raised now.

This might seem like a tangent, but I firmly believe that what librarians, teachers, store clerks, restaurant patrons - everyone - is seeing is the result of two generations of children being catered to yet ignored. Children who never have to wait for anything (be it a milestone or a popsicle). Children who are allowed to say, "Who do you think you are?" to their mothers (I have seen/heard this more than once with my own eyes). Children with poor impulse control and zero RESPECT for authority, their parents, their friends, or themselves. At one point in my struggle with two of the young women giving me grief, I said, "What would your mother think about the way you are behaving in here right now?" And they answered in unison, "My mother wouldn't care." And sadly, that's probably the truth.

And because in many cases libraries do become the default teen hangout, we are left to parent children who have had very little parenting. And that's not supposed to be our job. I certainly don't have the answers; luckily the fact that I look 10 years younger than I am and my ability to roll my neck and say, "Oh no you didn't," and "Don't make me get up outta this chair," has worked well enough most of the time. But just what are you supposed to do when a kid pees on the floor or refuses to leave when told to or threatens you? Closing the library to everyone isn't the answer, that's for sure, but I don't know what is.

Here is the message board for Maplewood and discussion about the issue. I'd love to hear what people think about this over at Library Talk as well.

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