Monday, December 11, 2006

Too Young for the Library

Last week a well experienced library professional, currently an administrator in a library school, questioned our "under 13" policy. The policy states that anyone under 13 years of age must be accompanied by an adult over 18 while in the library. The guest librarian argued that we are cutting off many needy patrons from our library by enforcing this rule, characterizing the policy as "staff centered" rather than "patron centered." On its face, the policy appears to function only to make the library environment more comfortable for the staff. However, it was put in place when a child was injured in the library and a parent could not be found to deal with the emergency medical personnel. Moreover, we were concerned with the possibility that a child could be snatched from the library from an adult stranger. The public often confuses libraries with schools. School employees have all sorts of powers relating to minors that libraries don't. We are very aware that we are cutting off our services from some young patrons because they can't get an adult to come to the library with them. Still, how do we manage this loss with the delicate balance of child safety? Why is it ok to leave your 10 year old in the library alone, but unwise to drop them off at Walmart or the local shopping mall? Maybe people have an overly romantic view of the library, that is ultimately just another public place.

Steve Bertrand
Assistant Director
Kankakee Public Library


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reading this post caused a swarm of reponses to crowd into my head. Imagine not being allowed to come into the library! Many 10, 11, and 12 year olds are allowed to leave their houses on their own to go walk around the neighborhood, ride their bikes around town, go to the corner store, etc. I can't imagine having to stop at the doors of the library, or, worse yet, get ejected just after walking in. I think of the story that Nancy Pearl tells about spending most of her childhood Saturdays reading in the local library in order to escape an unhappy household. I doubt she would have been better off loitering in the parking lot of the local 7-11. I spent many hours in the mall library branch myself as a young person, reading while Mom shopped (shopping=boredom) and I think my time was spent a lot more productively than had I been rolling my eyes and tapping my feet outside of the J.C. Penney trying-on rooms.
On the other hand, of course, who can't see your point? Society has changed, even in the 25 years since I was 10. An injured child is enough to launch a thousand policy changes. (I wonder, though, wouldn't an injured 13 year old also require a parent/guardian around to approve medical treatment?) People are more litigious, and children perhaps a little less well-behaved. As you say, a public place is a public place.
So, I guess I will have to say I'm curious. How was the 13 year old cut-off age decided upon? How many 13 year olds have legal ID proving they are 13? What do the people in your community think of the rule?

December 11, 2006 11:10 AM  
Blogger Lions-Online said...

We've had a variety of responses to policy in the community, ranging from total agreement to raging anger. After the inservice we had last week, our Youth Services supervisor and I had a chat, discussing whether it's time to think about retiring the under 13 policy. We created it when we were in an older building that had different, more difficult security and safety issues. I think this shows that libraries must be ready to periodically evaluate even the most sacred policies for relevance. I'll keep everyone posted as to what is decided.

December 13, 2006 2:55 PM  

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