New York Times
January 2, 2007
Lock the Library! Rowdy Students Are Taking Over
By TINA KELLEY
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.
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.
An institution that, like many nationwide, strives to attract young people, even offering beading and cartooning classes, will soon be shutting them out, along with the rest of the public, at one of the busiest parts of its day.
Library employees will still be on the job, working at tasks like paperwork, filing, and answering calls and online questions.
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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.
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.”
* * (snip) * *
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.”
That leaves librarians doing a job they did not sign up for: baby-sitting for kids old enough to baby-sit.
The Maplewood library has created a gallery space for young people’s artwork, put on an anime film festival and formed a Teen Advisory Group that attracted 30 youngsters for a recent pizza party.
But problems persisted.
In consultation with a lawyer, the library board came up with behavior guidelines in May 2005 that prohibited activities like “hairdressing or grooming of another person” and “refusal to leave the building.” The policy includes some politely precise language common to those who speak softly from behind a reference desk: “If a patron seems to be placing a staff member in the position of providing a nonlibrary-related function, the staff member may bring the interaction to a prompt conclusion.”
But library officials felt that a bigger stick was needed. Last week, the board posted a notice on its
Web site and library doors saying it had “struggled with this problem for over 10 years” and voted “with great reluctance” on Dec. 20 to close after school.
“Having as many as 50 young people with nothing to do creates an untenable situation,” read the
note, which pointed out that many students did not use library resources but simply socialized in the building. “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.”
The decision has not been popular in town. In a posting on Maplewoodonline.com, the community’s Internet bulletin board, one resident, Joan Crystal, said an alternative needed to be developed before closing the library. “I also think it improper to close the library during hours when adults, older students and M.M.S. students find it most convenient to use the library,” she wrote.
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. “To the extent that the vote of the library board is going to wake people up and get them to do something about kids from sixth grade to high school, that’s a good thing.”
About eight years ago, the library in nearby Irvington, N.J., struggling with similar problems, was shuttered for an hour each afternoon. But it was only for three days, until the students managed to settle down, officials said.
* * (snip) * *
Outside the library, students who use it gave the new hours two thumbs down, way down.
“Kids will get into real mischievous activities” with the library closed, warned one teenager, Jonathan Brock, a student at the district’s alternative high school program.
“I’m kind of annoyed,” said David Carliner, a middle schooler who was rushing up the library steps ahead of his father. “It closes right when my school gets out, so I can’t check out any books.”
Happy Blitt contributed research.
I don't want to criticize the decision made by the lovely folks at Maplewood Memorial Library, i don't know everything they've tried in the past or everything they're facing (and they seem to have enough people pointing fingers at them, and i can definitely empathize with them, i have been there, and i AM there~it sounds it exactly like our library (although sometimes ours can be a bit worse). But i do have to wonder at some of the comments made. First of all, i have NEVER considered little kids running around and making noise "Cute". I usually tell them to cease and desist, and if that has no effect, i tell their parent or responsible adult (if they are to be found) that they need to keep their child under control or leave the library. I have also been known to tell adults to please lower their voices and watch their language (though i don't remember doing so with the hard of hearing). I absolutely agree with equal treatment and believe that respect goes two ways. In fact when i once asked a group of adults to please take out their lattes (because we are not one of those modern libraries with a coffee bar and we don't allow drinks) and they made some kind of snarky comment about not being teenagers who couldn't handle their soda, i was thinking "why should that really make a difference in them being allowed to not follow our policy???" The idea that a teen is getting into trouble for talking loudly for a minute or two is an indication that Ms. Braun really doesn't understand the scope of the problem (or at least my problem.) I have been saying that what we really need in this area is a youth center too (we could use a new library too, which the town council keeps lobbying for, but we are in much more dire need of a youth center, but does anyone listen to little old me???) And what exactly does it mean that kids will get into mischievous activities? Is that somehow the library's fault? Is it the library's responsibility to keep them out of those activities? Is it a threat? And that poor annoyed middle school boy~this rampaging librariarian feels SO VERY SORRY for him.