There are times when I don’t respond to a comment right away, and it usually means that I’m thinking of the best way to respond, or that I just don’t have a good answer.
This comment from Katherine is one of those:
About mentoring youth, is that the teen area? There is a young adult librarian. Maybe she could be there in afternoon when kids are there. The other librarians are usually too busy to deal with the noise and unruly behavior.
When the library was designed, there was an acknowledgement that it was important to have a separate area for teens, separate from both children and adults. I think this was a great acknowlegement, because I’m a firm believer that adolescence is a special part of life, separate from childhood and adulthood, and that we need to equip people of that age the tools they need to be successful and well-informed.
The problem, as I see it, is that the amount of space allotted for the teens is way too small. I’ve heard reports about the noise and unruly behavior of the teens, but I have to say that I’ve never experienced it. Whenever I walk by that section of the library, the teens are usually pretty darn respectful, especially when I’m walking by with a young child or two in tow. That doesn’t mean they don’t get loud, that doesn’t mean that they’re not disrespectful at times, that just means I don’t see it.
My impression — and this could be an incorrect impression — is that the teen/YA librarian needs to spend time in the children’s room as well as the teen area. (I think I may have got that impression sometime around this meeting, but for the life of me, I have nothing to back that statement up.) So, there’s another problem: we’re short-staffed at the library.
And here’s a third problem: it’s loud on the main level. There’s no way around that. It’s loud on the main level of the Boston Public Library’s Johnson building, too. For better or for worse, people are looking at libraries more and more as social meetingplaces and less and less as shushing factories. The good news is that it tends to be quieter on the second floor, and quieter still on the third. I’ve had librarians come up to me (while typing on my laptop on the first floor) and let me know that I’m more than welcome to go upstairs if I need more quiet. And that’s been at times when people are barely speaking above a whisper. The noise level, however, cannot be attributed to the teens alone.
I don’t think we should forget that the teens are doing a lot of great things at the library. And I think it would be unfortunate to approach this problem, if it is a problem, as a “we have to get the teens under control” issue. They’re patrons, just as the adults are patrons, just as the children are patrons, and just as the homeless are patrons. We should be asking how we can best serve these specific patrons, not how we can keep these troublemakers from disturbing everyone else. When we cast it in those terms, we make it seem like the adults are the “real” patrons and the teens are only visitors.
One of the only good spots in having had most of our branch libraries eliminated is that the main branch truly is a cross-section of our city. People from all different backgrounds, who come from all areas of the city, who range in age from newborns to ninety-year-olds, congregate at the library to study, read, surf the web, and take out DVDs. You can approach those people as obstacles to your library experience, or you can look at them as fellow human beings with whom you might share a smile or funny anecdote, from whom you might learn something.
So, yes, there is a problem with the teens. The problem is that we need to do more for them, period, and that we should be recognizing people who are dedicating time to working with them.