Thursday, August 07, 2008

Teens in the Library

I love teenagers. I really do. They bring life and energy to the library and they force us to stay current. Many of the new services we have added at SSLDL in the last few years are teencentric: the addition of video games to the collection for various game consoles, the addition of more computers, the ability to IM a librarian, Meebo as a desktop icon on our public computers, and even the addition of a teen room to the building. I think that the job of a Teen librarian would be fun and challenging, and I can see myself in that role...most of the time.

Tonight I actually had to kick four teen boys out of the library. It breaks my heart to do it, but these particular boys have been asked to leave more than once. They generally show up during the summer in the late morning and stay until closing time. My co-worker is great about giving them chores to do when they get too rambunctious, and making them clean up their area every night. Usually all it takes is a look and they know that they are bothering people around them.

I think our library is extremely lenient in general, and we let a lot slide. This is the first time I have personally had to go to the extreme of saying "you're done for the day" and shooing them out the door. They need to understand that we are not bluffing when we give warnings. We don't mind talking and laughing and having a good time over computer games in the library, but once the shoving and throwing candy at each other starts, we have to step in. It is unfair to other patrons who are trying to get work done to have that kind of obnoxious behavior going on around them. It is a difficult line to walk between making the library fun and attractive to young people and still respecting the needs of traditional library users.

In general, throwing policy in peoples' faces is a lame way to enforce the rules. I believe that people are mostly reasonable (mostly...) and that simple human kindness, understanding, and listening can solve most problems. Throwing policy in their face and saying "that's not allowed" does not help our profession's reputation and usually does not solve the problem. Listening, sympathizing, and having a sincere conversation to get to the heart of the matter and come up with a solution is much more effective.

With the teens I threw out tonight, though, I have tried to sit them down in the past and talk to them about fairness and respect. I tried to make them understand that I have a boss and that my job is to ensure the safety and comfort of all library users. I also asked them to explain what it is that makes them unable to control themselves - the burping and bad language, the bathroom humor and the physical abuse they assault each other with all day. Is it just their age - are they really not able to step outside of themselves and look at their actions as the rest of us see them? They can not explain it, though I gave them the opportunity to explain their side of the situation. I will continue to try to listen and give them the chance to explain themselves, but I also have to take action when the rest of the library is compromised by their behavior.

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