Does This Library WANT to Make Kids Feel Unwelcome?

Hi Readers! Here’s a note from a Free-Ranger named Cari Noga. Let’s give her some ideas! — Lenore

Dear Free-Range Kids: I just posted this in the “ideas” section on your blog, but thought I’d send it direct, too. On your blog you ask, “Do you ever let your kid ride a bike to the library?” My question is, “What do you do if the library won’t let your kid in?”   After two recent incidents I’m looking for ideas on how to positively approach my local library about its policy on “unattended children.”

Currently it states that “children under age 8 must be accompanied at all times by a person at least 14 years old. Upon discovering an unattended child, staff will attempt to locate the person responsible for that child. If the proper person cannot be located within one half-hour, authorities will be called to take the child into custody.” (It doesn’t say whose custody.)

I always thought this policy was intended to prevent people from using the library as a babysitter. But after my own recent incidents, I’m beginning to think “accompanied” literally means within arm’s reach.

Incident one: I was with both my kids (ages 1 and 4) in the children’s section, while husband was in another wing, perhaps 50 yards away, on the same floor of the building. Four-year-old son asked if he could go over to Dad. We have visited the library on approximately a weekly basis since he was an infant, so I said okay. He went over to dad, then back to me, then over to dad again. Going back and forth meant he had to pass in front of the children’s librarians’ desk. The librarian wound up remonstrating my husband for letting our son go back and forth, using the “You just never know/world is a scary place” rationale.

Incident two: Took both kids by myself and stopped at the main desk (ironically to see if my reserve of Free-Range Kids had arrived)! My one-year-old daughter walked on about 30 feet further, to the Christmas tree on display. She did shake the bottom branches a bit, but nothing fell off or even wobbled. My son, meanwhile, ran into the children’s section ahead of me. A librarian came out of that section and shooed my daughter away from the tree. Seeing me, she asked if I was also with a boy. When I confirmed it, she made my son leave the children’s section and wait in the main corridor until I finished my conversation at the main desk and entered with him.

At the time I did not handle it well, as I was so upset. (After all, you certainly wouldn’t want a four-year-old dashing into the library.) I suppose technically we had violated the policy in both instances, although you could also argue that, per the policy, the librarians should have backed off after confirming my kids weren’t there alone. I wound up getting the name of the library director. I haven’t yet called her – incident two just happened last week – because I wanted to be prepared. Here are my questions for you and your readers:

1. Is this policy reasonable/typical?

2. If not, what parts need to change? The minimum age? The definition of “accompanied?”

3. Any model policies I could suggest?

4. Is there a case to be made for no policy at all, simply librarian discretion if kids – of any age – are being disruptive?

Thanks in advance for your help and book. Santa brought me a copy, so I can get the library’s back to them. They certainly need to read it.

Yours, Cari Noga, Michigan

Hi Cari! I certainly think it makes sense to check in with the head librarian and talk about how much you and your kids love the library, how you want to obey the rules and how you’d like to make sure you understand them correctly. That way you’re on the library’s side and can join the librarian in wanting the place to be well-run, kid-friendly and safe. Then you might agree that the world is a scary place, which is why you are trying to bring up little buggers prepared for the real risks out there. Not abductions from libraries, which are exceedingly rare (she can look it up!),  but things like ILLITERACY. Then ask her to recommend some kiddie books! Good luck! — Lenore

102 Responses

  1. I enjoy the topics on this blog, though I am not a parent. When I read this I did feel compelled to put in my two cents as someone who doesn’t have kids but obviously encounters them in public.

    I’m with you–kids don’t need helicopter parents. That being said, I think these situations look a little different to people who have kids vs. those who don’t (or who are in a position of authority and have to enforce rules). I find it disruptive when a parent does not keep a small child by their side in a public place, especially a place like a library. I understand the desire to expose kids to these institutions and let them have a familiarity and be comfortable in them, but sometimes I think parents can block out things that others cannot. It sounds like your children were being quiet and behaving, but sometimes people let their children get in the way, pull things off shelves or otherwise do things that bother people. It was the librarians job to enforce their posted rules to avoid disturbing other patrons. ( I used to work in a library, so maybe I’m biased). I’m not talking about hovering over the kid or putting a leash on them, but being close enough to a toddler to instantly being able to react to negative behaviors.

    When I see a young kid in a store or institution whose parent isn’t with them, I have to admit that my first thought it “Where is this kid’s parent?” When I worked retail, I saw this a lot. One woman was allowing her toddler to climb on the shelves a few aisles over. When I approached her and asked her to keep an eye on him and not to allow him to climb, she tore me a new one. Minutes later, a crash and the kid was on his way to the ER for stitches–and she sued the store.

    I might get some heat for this, but I think a lot of parents need to learn to stop what they are doing and focus on their children sometimes. I don’t mean in the sense of support, love, etc. but rather …mom or dad might have to stop browsing for a book for a minute, but she/he needs to keep an eye on the kid to make sure he/she gets from point a to point b safely and without disrupting others. I have a family member with the annoying habit of assuming others will watch her kids while they’re engrossed in a tv show, phone call, what have you. Sorry, but as parents sometimes you have to give up what you’re doing for a minute.

    None of this is directed at the parent in this situation, but it might give insight on why it might not seem like a big deal to you when you are in fact disrupting those around you, no matter how subtle it might be.

    I don’t think the point about being scared of abduction vs. literacy is a valid one. I don’t think the librarian is trying to kick you out, I think she’s trying to make sure that the library is enjoyable and safe for all patrons.

  2. You know – the King County Library Systems, in WA has a great policy on kids; it’s robust and functional, and their librarians are awesome.
    http://www.kcls.org

    I’d get a lot of like-minded parents together and write a very courteous, non-combative letter, and ask for a meeting. Remind them of how their library is funded, and let them know you’ll escalate the issue.

  3. I used to spend time at the library by myself starting at about 8, and got to know all the children’s librarians. However I used to sit and quietly read a book, or watch a filmstrip, so never had an issue.

    I have to agree with what JRR said, ” I find it disruptive when a parent does not keep a small child by their side in a public place, especially a place like a library.” I do too (and I have a 1 year old). A library isn’t really a place for a child to run around, or shake a Christmas tree. Maybe if your 4 year old had walked quietly or something, it wouldn’t have been a problem. It’s possible from your perspective they were being “good”, but from others perspectives, they were being distracting.

  4. I mostly agree with the writer, but I’m uncomfortable with the part about letting her little one play with the Christmas tree because she didn’t hurt anything. The librarians couldn’t KNOW the kid wouldn’t hurt anything — how many one-year-olds wouldn’t? And did the mom even know that HER one-year-old wouldn’t do something destructive. One year olds mostly don’t even know better. And there are plenty whose parents don’t even make the effort and whose kids do cause disruption or destruction — was the librarian supposed to realize at a glance that she was a good parent and it was all cool?

    So like JRR, I think you have to take responsibility for very young children in public — it’s not just about their “safety,” it’s about other things as well.

    As for the “no policy at all, simply librarian discretion” approach, maybe that might work in some places, but at a large library in a city, that would be a recipe for disaster, or at least for making librarians play cop all day instead of doing their actual librarian jobs. Librarians aren’t just sales clerks for a free service — they have many things to do other than keep an eye open to make sure kids are properly behaved. Policies need to be intelligently constructed so they’re not unnecessarily hampering people from normal behavior, but “no policy” means no boundaries for people without common sense.

    Having said that, I’m just really thankful that at our library, I can help my younger kids (8 and 11) pick out a few books in the children’s section, then wander upstairs by myself to the adult fiction or over to the adult non-fiction to browse by myself for a few minutes, while they’re parked at a table enjoying their finds.

    I agree that the policies described above are extreme and need to be modified, probably in the direction of relaxing what is meant by “accompanied.” Actually, it might just be a matter of training the staff to apply it reasonably — maybe this particular librarian thought she was enforcing the policy but was being far more strict than those who created the policy intended. Still, the mom needs to have a little empathy for the librarians as well. It may have looked to the librarian that here was one kid over here, messing with the tree, and here was another kid over there, running away from mom, and maybe mom needed to keep an eye on them. I agree that there was no real danger in letting the child run from dad to mom repeatedly along the same route, but one and four are not exactly “free range” age in large public places.

  5. I have to agree with the previous poster (JRR). I don’t have children either but was raised free-range – and I also worked retail for a number of years after college (in a bookstore). From the employee’s point of view, think of how many unattended kids they get in there that don’t have any manners, who damage books or disrupt other patrons, or whose parents expect the librarians to ‘babysit’, and then you might understand their policy on having a parent nearby at all times, especially for young children. I think their policy of age 8 and under is a good one, from a behavior perspective.

  6. I realize I didn’t offer a solution during my long response. I wonder if you could talk to them about increasing childrens’ programs or having a supervised children’s area you can sign them in and out of.

  7. Is it bad when one’s wife sees something like this and suddenly decides that the decision NOT to have kids was a good thing because of the hassle of dealing with our over-regulatory society?

  8. and once again, I’m glad I’m old!!
    When I was 7 my mom got me a library card. Well, I was a weird little kid and wanted to learn about genetics. So I spent most of my time taking out “grownup” books.

    I was a literate little kid, so by the time I was 8 I wanted to read Manchild in a Promised Land and other books that I guess most 8 year olds didn’t read. That set off the local librarians. But my mom went down and wrote a note stating that I was allowed to read anything I wanted to, no limits.

    And yes my mom did have to go down. We lived about a mile away, but I rode my bike all by myself.. I was so little that I was under orders to get off the bike and walk across the only big street (really it wasn’t, just to a little kid), but otherwise, no rules other than go have fun in the library.

    All these years later I still remember the books on genetics I read by Amram Scheinfeld including twins and supertwins. that one came out when I was 8 and as a twin I loved it.

    People should WANT kids in a library!! It’s where kids should be. What a funny place the world has become.

  9. Here is Harris County Library Policy. I think they do a good job balancing the rights of children with protecting the Librarians from being unpaid babysiters for disruptive children. Love Love Love the 1st sentence.

    http://www.hcpl.lib.tx.us/about/problem-behavior-policy

    E. Unattended Children

    1. Children have the same rights as adults to be in the library. They must follow library rules of behavior. If appropriate the parent or guardian may be called. If a child’s behavior necessitates them leaving the library, and this leaving could pose a risk to the child, the local law enforcement agency may be called as well as the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services (TDPRS), 599-5555.
    2. Suspected child abuse or neglect must be reported to the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services (TDPRS), 599-5555.
    3. In order to alleviate the problem of unattended children at closing time the following procedures may be used.
    1. Before closing inform children of the time of closing and ask them if they need to make arrangements for transportation.
    2. If necessary repeat this procedure.
    3. Bookmarks and flyers may be requested to inform parents of this problem. See examples.
    4. Write a press release. See example

  10. I agree completely with JRR and I’m a mom of two young boys.

    “A librarian came out of that section and shooed my daughter away from the tree. Seeing me, she asked if I was also with a boy. When I confirmed it, she made my son leave the children’s section and wait in the main corridor until I finished my conversation at the main desk and entered with him.”

    I think the librarian acted in a reasonable manner in this case.

  11. As a librarian and a mother of four small boys, I have to say that 1) shaking a Christmas tree? Not cool. I don’t care if anything was broken – just not cool. Especially if patrons and/or librarian see that no parent was close by to stop said child before something WAS broken.
    2) Kid walking back and forth to parents, in sight, on one floor? Fine.

    So — I think both the parent and the librarian need to lighten up a little. Get to know your librarians. Not just look familiar to them – KNOW them. Introduce yourself and your kids. Talk to them about book reccs. Go to toddler storytime. If my 2yo was shaking a Christmas tree in my library, both children’s librarians would know EXACTLY who he and I was, and that I wasn’t just letting him run wild but that, most likely, he’d “escaped.” (So when I do want to leave him playing quietly at the train table with his big brothers for five minutes while I check out books, I can.)

  12. Yeah, I don’t know. I’m kind of with the folks who say kids in public places is less about abduction than it is about being disruptive or getting lost. I wasn’t there, and I don’t know how your kids were behaving, but I too can offer some practical anecdotes. I worked catering for years, and it was amazing how parents would let their children run amok at weddings and social functions. We have TONS of potentially harmful situations ranging from having a full tray of food or dirty plates dropped into a kid who runs headlong into a server, to fun things like fire alarms and a water fountain. I’ve had parents give me the stink eye for asking them to move their infant from the aisle so I don’t trip over their kid (and, like JRR said… don’t you know the parents would flip their nut and sue immediately). It amazed me that parents sometimes expected us to do our jobs, which are extremely labor intensive while also keeping an eye on their children.

    This is definitely one of those areas where free range DOESN’T mean letting the kids run off because they’ll be “fine.”

  13. Thinking off the top of my head. You could start off talking about your little ones’ enthusiasm for the library sometimes getting the best of them and you would like some guidance about the library policies so that you have a place from which to begin teaching them their range in the library.

    Questions you could start with, does the child need to held onto by the hand, or within a hand’s reach? Can they wander within the children’s section, if so how far, one aisle from the parent or two? Try to make your questions come as much as possible from a place of trying to teach your children.

    Given the library’s previous reactions, I think deference to a pretty conservative reaction is a given. But I think you should be able to get some actual guidelines.

    I think I might be in the minority on my feelings about the library’s rules. I think they may be a bit harsh. I can see making sure that the child has a parent present and seeing that the child makes it back to the parent, but the rest seems only to make it library a less than pleasant place. I know peace and quiet are valued in a library – but it still seems too severe.

  14. I think you need to be responsible for your kids, and that the shaking of the tree was not a good idea, but that a kid going back and forth between parents should not be a problem. My kids go to the library every week and I comfortably let them browse in the children’s section. The librarians recognize them and have never given us any problems. The library should be a safe place and I don’t appreciate other people trying to scare kids unrealistically. The library is the place where I feel perfectly safe letting my 8 year old son, who is on the autism spectrum, go to the restroom by himself. If not there then where?

  15. As a librarian, I can tell you that most libraries have similar policies and yes, we do enforce ours stringently. People have NO IDEA what we see on a daily basis. Public libraries are not safe spaces, the way most parents assume. I’ve had people drop a toddler off for story time and leave. We’ve had to call the cops on people more times than I care to think about. There was a big case a few years ago where a young boy was raped in a library, while his mom sat a few yards away, using the computer. Local pedophiles congregate in my library, grooming kids by playing Halo with them on the computers. We have to be vigilant because there is a lot of liability if your child gets hurt and trust me, the ones who protest the loudest about the rules would be the first ones to sue the county/city if their kid got hurt. You can use and enjoy the library while still keeping an eye on your kid. Sit and read together in the children’s area, take your kids to story time. When you want to browse the adult area, either bring your kid with you or come at a time when you can be alone. It shouldn’t be our responsibility to watch them every second, that’s not what we’re here for. We are professionals with advanced degrees who, although we love your children and don’t want them to get hurt, also aren’t social workers and baby-sitters.
    To answer Cari’s questions. Yes, this policy is reasonable and very typical. No, there is no case to be made for no policy at all. I chuckled out loud at this one. We have policies for how to create policies. Librarians LOVE policies. There is no way they are getting rid of this one. I think the minimum age on this policy is VERY reasonable, where I live it’s 12. At the end of the day, even the most perfectly behaved child is still a child and can easily hurt themselves or be hurt by someone else while you have your back turned. In public spaces, you have to keep an eye on your kid. Not to mention the NUMEROUS complaints we will get from other patrons because your kid is wandering around without a parent. I have worked as a library director and believe me, the complaints I got the most were about kids wandering the library unattended, even as old as 15 and 16!

  16. Wow. We have an exceedingly child friendly library, so much that I was shocked to read this kind of policy exists! Our library is at least half kids’ section, if not more than half. The childrens’ librarians are on a first name basis with the hundreds of kids who frequent the library, and have gone out of their way to create safe play zones for the little “haptic readers.” The “big” and more restrictive library in the next city over has an accompanied policy on children under 8 outside the kids’ section, which is a closed environment, and completely seperate from the rest of the library. Requiring parents to be within feet of their children in a library seems to run counter to the point of a library, to me. It doesn’t encourage independent reading choices, or self-guided attempts to understand the categorization method of the library. I understand kids on their own can pose a problem, but this kind of draconian policy strikes me as being made of fail.

  17. I think you are fine on the first situation. I can see why someone might be concerned on the second. Either way it shouldn’t be a big deal.

  18. Aaron, I’m familiar with that story being from the Boston area. In that case no one blamed the mother, but rather a criminal system and also the social system. The child rapist was known to molest children as a child himself while he was in foster care and came from a home in which sexually abuse occurred.

    The back story of the criminal’s childhood who raped the six year old is just as horrific if not more. We know many child molesters were themselves once victims, rather then just hiding our children is there anything we can do as a matter of public policy other then the two options of keep them locked up or released?

  19. The first situation is fine if the kid was in sight the whole way, but maybe not if the child had to go around the corner and was out of sight. Even if the kid knows the way, he still might become overwhelmed with curiosity and duck into a room where he doesn’t belong, pull some books off a cart, inspect an electrical socket, or whatever. (It’s silly that the librarian brought up abduction, though; there are much better arguments.)

    You have to consider other people when you let your kids go free-range: I have a two-year-old, and when we go to our favorite bagel place I’ll let her walk between me at the cashier and our table on the other side of the restaurant, but only if the restaurant is relatively uncrowded, and I keep an eye on her lest she get in anyone’s way.

  20. Our neighborhood library (about 1/3 mile away) has been under renovations for the past 18 months. It looks like it will finally be done w/in two months. Then I’ll let my 10 yo walk down there himself and get a library card. YES!

  21. As a library science grad student I defer to the experienced librarians in the audience, but here’s my two cents…

    The Lexington (MA) public library has a sensible policy on children, which unfortunately I can’t find online (their web site is http://www.carylibrary.org/ ). The gist of it was something like kids under 8 need to be accompanied by someone over the age of 16 or so and older kids can be at the library unaccompanied for reasonable periods of time — it seemed to strike a nice balance between access & friendliness and, yes, not using the library as a babysitter.

    Neil Gaiman’s acceptance speech for his Newbery award is, in part, a paean to his childhood in the library. While it does verge on library-as-babysitter territory, it is also a beautiful and eloquent defense of the value of libraries in the lives of children, and your library is likely to have a copy (not sure it’s online, but it’s in the August ’09 Horn Book).

    I don’t know what the liability climate has been like in your town; that may also be influencing the library staff’s reactions.

    Unfortunately the American Library Association is presently revamping its page on unattended children, so there’s no content there now. They do offer a book on developing policies about unattended children in the library, which they will happily sell you (or, again, perhaps your library could track down for you). I imagine this would be an exceptionally authoritative source.

  22. I don’t think it’s a problem as far as potential abduction, but I can see how at least the 1-year-old was being disruptive. I’m glad the tree and ornaments weren’t hurt, but you couldn’t have known they wouldn’t be with a child so young. And the 4-year-old could have been being disruptive. I can’t tell from this anecdote. If he was being disruptive then the librarian’s actions were fair, but if not then she should have backed off.

    My 7-year-old does fine wandering freely at the library without being disruptive and would have been fine certainly at 6 and maybe even at the last half of 5, so I think the age of 8 seems a bit old, but it does seem reasonable to have some age limit on when children can wander without a parent in the library.

  23. When I was a girl libraries were much stricter than they are now. Raising my kids, I was surprised at how rowdy and noisy the librarians let the kids (and adults) be. Libraries aren’t playgrounds.

    That said, I think this particular librarian just doesn’t care for kids. This is actually nothing new, there have been cranky librarians since libraries have been around. She was just using the current safety paranoia as excuse for the fact that she doesn’t really care for kids generally, and in particular is tired of their parents letting them run wild.

  24. as a parent I do try hard to teach my children to NOT be disruptive to other people – in restaurants, private homes, libraries, stores. To be cognizant of those around them. And if I see my child not acting in this manner, I absolutely will take action with them; it’s my job to teach them.

    That being said, adults can be just as damned cognizant and thoughtful! Small children are NOT small adults. They are NOT going to behave like small adults. Inasmuch as one expects children to behave and pay attention, so must adults and that means occasionally you may encounter a child behaving less-than-adult-like. They may be doing the little kid run from parent to parent in the library. This is not always disruptive and is rarely a personal affront TO YOU. Really. Step aside and let him by, continue on your way. If the child is not posing an ACTUAL risk to you or to property (and I do agree, a toddler shaking a Christmas tree could very well lead to dumping the tree, breaking an ornament, or otherwise causing damage to self or public property so a “no, no, only for looking” comment would be completely appropriate here) then let the child be the child, and you be the grownup and not whine about a child actually existing in your library.

    I understand. I really do. But sometimes I think adults OVERREACT to situations that don’t require that much OMGCHILD shock and horror.

  25. Regarding Kimberly’s post about the Harris County Public Library, when I first read that policy, I contacted the library system policy manager and personally THANKED her for the responsible attitudes that the policy embodies. If you encounter similar friendly public or private policies in your communities, I encourage you to actively voice your support for them, because gosh knows there is always a corresponding abundance of nay-sayers who will voice theirs.

    Incidentally, for those of you who are not familiar with Harris County, it’s the principal county among those half-dozen or so comprising greater Houston, Texas. Harris County has also been (in)famous historically for a high criminal conviction rate resulting in the imposition of the death penalty. The double-sided coin of individual rights predicated on individual responsibility is well-emphasized at many public levels in this community. :-)

  26. Oh I thought this was going to be about dropping off an 8 year old to do a research project and mom coming back to find herself in trouble with the cops.
    I don’t agree with the world is a scary place argument, but that is more PC of her to say than “your kid running back and forth is annoying the crap out of me”.
    I am enjoying sending my own kids to the library and soon the pool on their own. Heck, even the mall. But even I think that a four year old and a one year old need to be within a controllable distance of mom or dad.
    There is the possibility that your children aren’t as well behaved as you think they are as they wander the library. If you visit weekly, the librarians know your kids. And maybe, just maybe, they’ve had enough and are now starting to assert themselves and the policy to you.

  27. As a librarian, I would say you should contact the library director and APOLOGIZE for the incident with the tree, then say, “we had one other problem with my 4 year old walking between my husband and I in the children’s section. We’re working on teaching and enforcing appropriate behavior in the library. Can you suggest some resources appropriate for a four year old?”

    If the librarian was really overreacting, the director is likely to say “Oh, going back and forth between parents in the children’s section is ok, as long as you keep an eye on them and the child isn’t disruptive. But we worry when the child is disruptive or we’re not sure the parent is paying attention.” Or you may hear that they have a very strict policy.

    Children’s librarians tend to be much more laid back about kids being out of arm’s reach in the children’s department, so there may be another factor with your four year old– maybe there was an out of control kid there as well and she was trying to enforce fairly, or there was someone in the building she was concerned about. Or maybe he was more rowdy than you noticed. Is there a no running rule, maybe?

    However, I agree that keeping your one year old close enough that she easily can’t grab things and try to pull them down is absolutely appropriate in the main part of the library. Unfortunately it sounds like your reaction to the one-year-old incident is unlikely to win you friends in the library unless you work at it. If your baby grabs something they aren’t supposed to, you make a much better impression by rushing to deal with the situation and apologizing.

    Yes, sometimes library workers can be really cranky about kids. But there are out-of-control kids who visit libraries on a regular basis, and you don’t want your kids to be tarred with that brush.

  28. In terms of what to do: You might start by finding out if the librarian was really enforcing that policy, or just using it to try to generally prevent disruption for other patrons. Because it doesn’t sound like you actually violated their unattended children’s policy – they talk about “If the proper person cannot be located within one half-hour” that doesn’t sound like a policy intended to have parents holding their kids hands the whole time.

    If it is the policy, and the library leadership does intend it to mean such close supervision, I suggest finding model policies you like and some other like minded patrons and starting a conversation with the leadership. That’s how most people start to effect change on things like this (at least, if they’re not already politically active and connected).

    I tend to agree with several others that the one year old playing with the tree when you were not in a position to stop her should anything have gone wrong would bother me if I were the librarian.

    On your son going into the children’s section without you and walking back and forth between you and your husband – I think that depends entirely on how he was behaving. If he was non-disruptive (which means, effectively, being pretty much silent when walking in the main library) then I think the librarians were out of line. But if he were being at all disruptive then I think they were within their rights to ask you to be more attentive – not because of their children’s policy, but because librarians should take steps to ensure no patrons disrupt the library for others.

    8 seems a little old for me for an absolute cut off on unattended children. I love the Harris County policy and it’s reminder that children are people too! It seems to do a good job of making the policy about the ability of people to act as appropriate in a library. I am concerned about the comments by the librarian who thought unattended children were a problem simply because people complained about them being unattended. If the complaints are about disruption, that’s one thing. But other people not liking someone using a library appropriately because of their age is the complainers problem.

    I do think it’s nice when libraries focus on children and allow for somewhat rowdier (for want of a better description) kids to use the facilities so long as they also allow others to use them quietly. Such services might introduce books to more children at a younger age and provide some relief for parents, but I think this is an extra about providing something on top of general library services. I don’t think people should expect to be able to take their kids to the library regardless of how they behave – which isn’t to say the original letter writer did.

  29. When our local community library was still open it used to be full on a Saturday of unattended children from about five years old upwards. The “big” library in the city centre is on 5 floors with the childrens section on the ground floor. You have to pass through the foyer to reach the fiction section of the adult library and there are heavy doors to pass tthrough so i don’t think it woul be so easy for children to run between the two parts here.
    I am all for children having good access to libraries museums etc and at the Museum of Media and Television its lovely to see children wandering off to look at the interactive parts.
    But the part that intensely annoys me are the grown ups who let their little ( and not so little ) ones run around as though they are in the local play park.
    This has happened at several art galleries that have spacious floor areas.

    Libraries and museums are informative places that should be treated with respect and young children can be taught the appropriate behaviour while there. What might be considered cute at one (ie touching the tree) would be wrong behaviour in a chlld a few years older.

    The idea should be that children are welcomed into places, librarians and staff become familiar with local children and children with them. And that other grown ups don’t become resentful because children do not know how to behave.

  30. From the Harris County PL policy posted above:
    “1. Children have the same rights as adults to be in the library. They must follow library rules of behavior.”

    This is great. Children have rights in the library; they also have responsibilities. Harris Co. makes it clear that the library expects all its users, regardless of age, to follow the rules.

  31. When I was in elementary school and middle school, I would ride my bike to the library once a week in order to drop off and check out new books. The librarians never gave me a first glance, much less a second. I never got in trouble, was never accosted by strangers, never felt up, never NOTHING. The library was, in my opinion, the safest place I’ve ever been, and it had 400 pound shelves of books waiting to topple over.

  32. Thank you for all the comments, especially those of you who left links to other policies.
    Very interesting reaction. I actually thought the librarians’ intervention was more justified in Incident One, since our son left the children’s section, and that Incident Two was far more heavy-handed, but opinion is certainly running the other way. I also considered the Christmas tree part tangential to the whole thing, so interesting to see how many people focused on that. I hadn’t thought that perhaps by being out of restraining range of my daughter that I would be coloring myself negligent and thus affecting how the librarian interpreted the part with my son, which to me was the central part of Incident Two. I do want to re-point out that in Incident Two, my son was entering the children’s area – the area intended for him.
    Also, LauraL, thank you for providing the reality check on children not being small adults! I was getting discouraged til I read that.

  33. The big problem is not the well behaved kids that we FreeRangers parent, it other people’s kids.

    Really though, kid behavior is all over the map now, and since disciplining other people’s kids (or even correcting or talking to them) is considered unacceptable, public places have few good options but create policies that address the worst behavior rather than the norm or the best.

    I LOVE the policy that Kimberly posted (Harris County Texas). It treats children like people, but makes clear that there are additional responsibilities that the Librarians must take to ensure their safety. There is a vague threat implied in those additional responsibilities (if we have to kid your kid out because he’s being a noisy little jerk and you aren’t here RIGHT NOW, we’re gonna call the cops and Child Protective Services. So don’t leave your disruptive little monster unattended). It’s a good balance. I hope they can maintain it even after they have to make use of it a few times to deal with bad parent and child behavior.

  34. I think I agree with pretty much everyone here. This possibly isn’t so much a case of free-range, as it is a possible case of running wild. The difference is expectations. In the library, the behavior should be much closer to what you would expect of the children when visiting a school or an office. A lot of people are trying to get actual work done there (except in the children’s section), so a sense of quiet and decorum is called for. You can’t expect kids to be 100% quiet, but you can set the expectation IN ADVANCE, and reiterate it as necessary.

    With my daughter, when she was four, I made her stay pretty close beside me at all times. I made her a deal: However long you can behave yourself with me in the grown-up section, that’s how long we spend in the kids section. If she became disruptive in five minutes, we left, went to the kids section, and spent five minutes, before leaving altogether. Since that wasn’t enough time (it was a really NEAT kid’s section), the next time around, she’d behave herself longer, so she could play longer.

    A four-year-old who is wandering by himself probably isn’t a danger, but could be a disruption. My daughter at that age might have stopped to say hi to a few people along the way, or been tempted to practice her skipping, jumping, or play the “walking game” (a game I used to play to get her to actually use her feet, rather than the stroller, when she was young). I didn’t let her out of line of sight in the library at that age, and asked her every time on the way in “How do we behave in here?” to get her to remind herself to be quiet.

    You might try discussing with the librarians, since it sounds like you are a frequent visitor, and find out if your kids have caused a disruption. If so, you need to work with the kids, not the library. Once they’ve learned your expectations, you can start extending them free-range privileges. When you do, make sure the librarians know they can approach you if your child creates a disruption, so that you can deal with it. From there, side with the librarian. Most people are a lot more fault-tolerant with kids if they know they can come to you with a real problem. If it turns out the librarian is completely kid-intolerant, THEN you need to have a word with the director of the library.

  35. BTW, because people have been known to drop off their kids at libraries for whole days at a time, it’s not at all unusual to have an unattended child policy, and 8 is actually a very *young* age to be allowed unattended in the library. If you have a library with a liberal policy, be sure to thank them and teach your children to treat the library with respect! Many libraries will not allow children under 12 in the library unescorted.

  36. Libraries!

    Don’t get me started.

    As a writer, I am often working–or trying to work– in a library. Here’s what I’ve found (no, this isn’t really a ‘free range’ issue, but it is, I think, important): In the dim and dark past, libraries who places where most areas and rooms were off limits to talking, noise, music, eating, drinking, and small children. Eg, they were places intended to foster thinking, reading, contemplation, research, or just a peaceful snooze.

    If you wanted to work WITH someone, or talk, or conduct group study, you had to ask for a ‘special room’ intended for that use.

    But, today, in most community libraries I am aware of, all that has been turned upside down.

    Now, as I’ve been unceremoniously informed of by a number of very talkative, and often noisy, librarians themselves, one may talk in nearly any space in the library, often in full, or ‘outside’, or downright loud voices, and conduct group study, tutor another, eat, munch, chew, rattle, hum, slam doors, slide chairs all about–you get my drift–in just about any area in said ‘library’.

    In other words, the small, community library has become more of a ‘community center’ in many areas of the country.

    And for those of us who need relatively quiet, calm places to work, this really rankles! I, and another writer I have worked with, have actually gotten into tussles (verbal, of course) with staff over this at our otherwise excellent local library.

    And it’s not just kids. The kids are often–as The Who said so well–alright. It’s the teens, the adults, often, oddly, older adults, and, yes, employees of the library who can be comically, rudely, in one’s face, LOUD.

    I don’t get it, and, obviously, don’t like it.

    Why can’t Americans put the proverbial lid on it once in awhile??

    As for kids in libraries, I took my own often when they were very young, and older. But, yes, please do supervise, and teach them to be quiet. It can be done! And don’t schlep too many at one time–enlist another adult, or older kid to help, or wait for another day. What parent needs a headache like that anyway?

  37. My first thought when reading the above policy was, “well, yeah. sadly most kids 8 and under don’t know how to *behave* in a library when unattended by an adult.” I am super free range, but I have a 4yo and a 3yo and a 1yo who are reasonably well behaved and I certainly don’t let them out of my sight in the library. Not because I am afraid of what will happen to *them* but rather that they are not old enough to understand what disturbs a library patron.

  38. I am a recovering parent (the “baby” is now 23), not a grandparent, and a former public library director.

    Libraries are not the same kinds of places that they were when I grew up. And I grew up in a town small enough where it seemed like everyone knew my parents — I got away with almost nothing!

    At the same time there may be state or local rules. In Connecticut, in the early days of the casinos there were people who left children in their cars while they gambled. This resulted in a state law about “unattended children.” The large urban public library I directed had a policy similar to the one you quote, which was crafted, with legal advice, to ensure that we followed the state law.

    So….while what other say is true, you should also inquire if the policy is partly inspired by something outside the library’s control.

    As always, acting respectfully (which you have) will almost always guarantee a respectful discussion.

  39. My library has a similar written policy, but ever since my kid was happy enough to toddle off on her own, I have allowed her to head to the kids area while I do my business at the desk the librarians have never said anything, and the times that my daughter did things even somewhat disruptive, I took the opportunity to teach her not to do that and maybe keep her close by for the rest of the trip.

    Sure, lots of parents might not be conscientious about teaching their kids to not be disruptive. That does not mean that my 5 year old should be kept by my side. That’s a blanket policy saying that the consequences of the child being disruptive are so severe we must not allow it to happen at all, and no kid should have autonomy until that magic age of 8.

    So many posters are really concerned about kids running wild in library. What if… Really it is the same thinking that it could happen that my child will be kidnapped so I must not let them out of my sight. The child might be disruptive, so parents must not let them out of their sight. The librarians were probably right to address the tree, but not the parentless kid in the children’s area. I agree with many of the posters that lots of kids are disruptive. The parents of those kids should be required to end the disruptive behavior even if that means leaving. But the rest of us parents should not have to have the children within a 5 foot range to prevent the possibility. The problem is with the parents not the free range children.

  40. I’m a Youth Services Librarian for a medium sized county library and our policy is even more restrictive than this one. We don’t allow children under 10 in the library at all unless accompanied by an adult (18 or older). I’m fairly new at this particular library, but I much prefer this policy to my previous place of employment’s lack of policy, even though it is difficult to enforce at times.

    I have to agree with all the commenters who have said this: LIBRARIES ARE NOT SAFE PLACES. As a librarian who works with kids and who loves them all, I wish this was not true, but it is.

    Blanket policies may not be the best way of handling situations this delicate, but as someone else pointed out, I don’t have time to weigh the circumstances of every situation. I’m very busy and I see probably 200 kids a day. You may know that your child is mature enough to run back and forth between areas, but the librarian might not. She just sees an unattended child. In my 13 years of library service, I’ve been cussed out on numerous occasions for enforcing various rules, but parents are by far the worst. How dare I stop kids from climbing bookshelves, sliding down the banisters, pulling the fire alarms, throwing books at each other, setting the trash cans on fire, spitting on each other, wrestling in the geneaology room, etc, etc, etc? And these are just the infractions I can print. Our guard pulled an 11 year old girl and a 15 year old boy out of the children’s bathroom a few weeks ago. This morning, I got a lecture from a mother who was upstairs on the computer with her headphones on, for returning her 3 year old son to her. “He was fine where he was”, she said, which was downstairs in adult magazines, amongst the homeless men who hang out there.

    My point is this: you are probably a good parent and your kids are probably good kids. Policies like this aren’t made for you. They’re made for parents who drop their 3 year old off with a 12 year old as “guardian” for 6 hours. Maybe in your case, the librarian was just cranky. But if it were me, I would just be trying to be consistent.

    On a side note, I recently promoted Free Range Kids and several of the books that it references at a talk for our local homeschooling association. :)

  41. I’m supportive of libraries requiring young children (e.g. under-6 at my own library) to be within sight of parents, to ensure that the children behave properly. Also, my own library has a “sound-meter” (a light which flashes red when you talk to loud) in the children’s section which I love – a great way to get the point across that libraries should be quiet places.

  42. Christie, I wasn’t talking about keeping her by my side, but rather within eyeshot. When they’re that young, you keep them where you can see them and hear them, so that if they do start to create a disturbance, you are on top of it, right away. Small kids have a short attention span, and discipline has to be prompt. If you’re busy at the librarian’s desk, you can’t stop what you are doing to go discipline the kid – in that case, yes, you SHOULD keep them close to you, unless they’ve already proven their trustworthiness.

    The metaphorical leash you keep the kids on should depend on circumstances, and the kid. As their impulse control improves, so should the distance they can roam. Creating a disturbance may not be disastrous, but it is rude. To me, part of parenting free-range is taking the time to make sure they handle the liberty reasonably politely. I don’t expect adult-like behavior, but I do expect a child to handle both the practicalities and the social aspects of the situation appropriately before turning them loose. If that means I hover a little longer to teach manners, so be it.

  43. I just thought of something that maybe some parents here who feel their libraries are too restrictive could propose? It would take effort on the parts of the library staff, the parents, and the kids, but it might work.

    At our local pool, if you’re under 12 you have to prove you can swim a certain distance on your own before you’re allowed to jump off the diving board into the deep end or go down the water slide on your own. Once children pass that test, it’s logged in their account in the computer and when they come to the pool, they ask for their bracelet. This bracelet proves the test was passed and the lifeguards can allow the kids to use these particular pieces of equipment.

    What if a child could “prove” they know how to be quiet, respectful, won’t run, etc. and this allows them some free reign in the library so that mom or an older sibling doesn’t have to be with them the whole time? It could be a matter of the parents signing off on it, period (probably an age-appropriate thing) or the kids could pass an informal test. “Is it ok to run or climb?” “no.” Is it ok to talk loudly or yell? No. Where are you allowed to be? In the kids’ area or the fiction area if my parent says it’s ok for me to do so….etc. etc. So they are aware of the rules, the library knows they know the rules, and the parents are still the ultimate responsible player here since they sign off on it.

    Kids can come in and get their “bracelet” or a pin or something that identifies them, proudly, as a Good LIbrary Patron or some such title. It can relieve other adults, librarians and the kids from a lot of worry if it’s clear this child is actually All Right.

  44. LauraL,

    As much as I like the idea of your suggestion, I don’t think it’s very feasible for most libraries. It might work in a small public library, but we see way too many children on a daily basis to test them on library skills or make sure they’re wearing a bracelet. And even if we did give out some sort of identifier, they’d actually have to bring it to the library every time. We’re busy from 3:30 til closing helping with reports, computer glitches, printing errors, programs, you name it. And for most kids, it’s difficult enough to remember their library cards and books.

  45. And, as I said, it would take some effort on the parts of ALL parties. No change is made without some effort and thought and, initially, time. What’s so hard about getting a library volunteer to do these with the kids? And the bracelet or whatever can be done at the desk with a scan of the library card.

  46. I’m inclined to consider the library policy pretty reasonable. The 4 year old going between parents I wouldn’t see as a problem – my 4 year old would be wanting to do the same thing.

    But I wouldn’t be letting my (nearly) 1 year old play with the decorations because I couldn’t be sure if she’d suddenly get rough with it all. I know over the next several months she’ll get better about knowing how to treat things, but children that age are very impulsive.

    On the other hand, I’d probably still be trying to get my 7 year old to quit trying to talk loudly to anyone she met, especially kids near her own age.

  47. I’m kind of surprised by the large number of “Libraries are dangerous places!” comments here. I don’t have any utopian delusions about our library (the homeless guys using it as a place to find a comfortable seat certainly disspell that notion). But isn’t talking in these terms exactly the sort of culture of fear that bred helicopter parents in the first place? I know we should be realistic about danger and talk to our kids about how to be safe, but are libraries any more dangerous than any other part of our communities? Just wondering.

  48. I am a librarian and we have a similar policy at our library, although, I work closer to the adults in the library than the children in the library (I am not a youth librarian). A number of the reasons for the policy have already been addressed, but I will add that a library is a public place where anyone can walk in. The emphasis here is on anyone: ex-convicts, sex offenders, mentally ill persons, homeless persons, seedy characters, etc. For the safety of your children in a library, I would always keep them in my sight. You never know what could happen or who could be around you.

    At the same time, if you’re visibly watching your children and they are not doing anything disruptive to other patrons or library property, I would think the librarians should leave you and your children alone after being sure the kid had a guardian of some kind in sight. But, again, keeping them within your site at all times in a public library is the best practice for their safety.

  49. Oh, and in response to Fengru, yes, they are absolutely more dangerous. I have only been a public librarian for 2 years and I already have so many stories, it’s unbelievable. Again, because anyone can come in, they do and, if they have no other place to go, they stay. Fights have broken out, men have exposed themselves to children, men have been caught masturbating, urine has been found in every place imaginable, needles and other drug paraphernalia have been found in the bathrooms, and I could go on and on. Yes, they can be dangerous places, especially for young children that cannot defend themselves as well as adults.

  50. I agree with the majority of people on here regarding the tree.

    I think this is, as it’s been said, less a free-range issue and more of a young kids in a library issue.

    I won’t harangue you again on the baby and the tree – but with a 4-year-old, I can see how the back and forth and back and forth might make the librarians nervous for other patrons.

    For myself, my kids were expected in a place like that to pop a squat, read some books, etc. As a child, I would be taken to the kids section and allowed to pick out several books, then accompany my adult to the adult section – sit and read, while they went looking for their own books. Once I was about 7-8 I was allowed to go to the library on my own, but by being taught that wandering wasn’t allowed (because it was disruptive to people trying to learn/read/study), I was never looked upon negatively by the librarians and even got to know them and vice versa. It was great when they’d tell me about new books they’d gotten in – and I was under 10.

    I think the policy is a good one… under 7/8 is a good age to have your kids near you in a library just to be sure they aren’t disruptive. Granted, they aren’t mini-adults and I wouldn’t expect them to behave that way – but by the same token, they don’t learn how to behave if they’re not being shown what to do.

    I think I’m rambling a bit. I understand how you might have felt embarrassed and slighted by the incident – but I think the librarians were being reasonable and that the policy itself is a very reasonable one. (Unlike the one someone posted on here about kids under **16** needing supervision… what a crock.)

  51. Hi Lenore, this is way off the library topic, except for the ” keep an eye on your kids ” bit. Sorry, but I don’t know how to put it elsewhere, and you may do with it what you will, or delete it.
    I boulder ( climb un-roped ) at a local rock gym. Some parents, usually guests and not members, let their younger children run around and assume that the staff will care for them. Once or twice I have almost taken out a child when I fell because they wandered over and stood underneath me while I was on an over-hanging climb and did not notice them move in under me.
    If the climber sees the kid, they will ask them to move, but we are looking up, and not underneath us, so sometimes there are close calls. I just wanted to give an example of a place that is fun and popular with children, but not exactly safe in all instances.
    Incidentally, I was raised and fully agree with the free-range idea. Your site is great !

  52. Big libraries are ABSOLUTELY not safe places for kids to be unsupervised. I don’t mean to be an alarmist anti-Free-Ranger here, but I’ve worked in a large urban library for five years. Catching masturbators at the computers is a daily occurrence. People having sex in the public restrooms is at least a weekly to monthly occurrence. Once in my five years I did have a 10-year-old boy come to the reference desk and tell us that a man in the bathroom had tried to molest him. The most disturbing thing I ever saw was the time someone had used our books on child sexual abuse as a masturbation aid. I got to clean it up, too.

    Dangers in libraries aren’t just limited to children either. I literally don’t know a single female employee at our library who hasn’t been stalked or harassed by a patron at some point- especially the shelvers, who work alone in the stacks instead of at the desk in view of other people.

    Other commenters are correct though, that unattended-child policies are more for the library’s safety than the kids’. You would be surprised how many people think it’s appropriate to abandon toddlers in the library and think that someone there will look after them.

  53. I am the director of a suburban public library outside NYC. I just found your website today and ironically I am working on a policy regarding safety of children in the library. Thanks to those of you who suggested existing policies.

    My 2 cents. It sounds like the librarian overreacted to the first incident of the child walking between parents. It happens, librarians are people too and we all have a bad day. If you have another situation with this individual library employee I would call the director for an appointment to talk it over. If there is a chronic “cranky librarian” on staff the director should know about it.

    The second incident with the one year old, as someone said, definitely not cool. The 4 year old going to the children’s library alone is also not cool.

    I have worked in public libraries since I was 15, in all departments, children’s, adult, circulation, etc., parents should not assume that libraries are 100% safe.

    Recently a regular library patron was classified as a level 3 sex offender. In NY this is a very serious designation that identifies this person as a likely repeat offender. We learned about this via the local newspaper. I contacted the local police to inquire about restricting his use of the library. I can not do anything to prevent this convicted sex offender (who pleaded guilty) from entering the library. That worries me, especially in light of the Boston incident.

    The other factor is noise and disruption. I am finding that people want quiet spaces in the library as well as spaces to talk. I think the world has become so loud with lots of noise pollution that people are craving quiet space. Cell phone conversations are ubiquitous. My library was recently expanded to 46,000 square feet. One area is almost dead silence because that’s what patrons want and I find they regulate themselves.

    We are fortunate enough to have two levels so the lower level is the “noisy zone.” Downstairs people can talk on their phone, study together, have a meeting, etc. The children’s library has a different atmosphere, in the morning when the babies, toddlers and preschoolers are here the place is noisy. (I can hear the running over my head as I sit at my desk, it’s great, they are obviously enjoying their library visit.) After school when kids and parents are here to do homework it’s nice and quiet. Libraries have to be lots of things to lots of people, it’s always a balancing act.

    Creating a policy that suits the need of the library, and our desire to welcome children into our facilities is tricky. Some 8 years would be fine by themselves, perfectly happy to sit and read a book, and some parents would come and pick that 8 year old up on time before the building closes. But some 8 years or 9 years olds, etc., could not behave in a library without parental supervision. Unfortunately our society demands that we treat everyone the same, therefore we set up an age designation, which may seem arbitrary to the parent of a mature, well behaved 8 year old. We can’t have no policy because that will lead to accusations of unfairness. Some moms and dads can’t even agree on acceptable behavior, imaging getting a staff of 35 to agree about which child is mature enough to fly solo in the library?

    Another issue is that parents are responsible for what their child is reading. The children’s library has lots thousands of books, about all kinds of topics from sex, to religion, death, violence, etc. The children’s collection is designed to suit the needs of babies up to 6th graders. The Library staff can not regulate what book your child picks up to read or borrow. We make recommendations and give guidance, but I would never take a book out of a child’s hand, but a parent might and rightly so.

    In my library the young adult collection is adjacent to the children’s library. There are some 12 year olds who are mature enough to make choices from the young adult collection, but others are not, and only a parent can make those determinations.

    Very interesting conversation. Thanks for giving this non-parent the parental point of view.

  54. Just a quick something to add to this thread. I am a children’s librarian and some of the things I see parents allow their children to do even when they are withing eyeshot/earshot of their children is appalling. In Cari’s case though I more than likely would have spoken to her about he 1 year old with the tree and let the 4 year old do his thing.

    I absolutely love those parents who come to me to say they will be in the adult section and that their kids should be okay. I love those parents who not only say this but introduce me to the kids then tell the kids that it is of utmost importance to respect the rules of the library as well as the librarian or there would be hell to pay.

    I have no problems with kids who are respectful and know how to behave in the library. Unfortunately, lots and lots of 8 and unders are not real sure of the rules and regulations and require some sort of adult intervention at some point. The best intervention comes from a loving parent rather than an imposing authority figure (me).

    Our policy says this: “The library does not act in loco parentis. A responsible adult or caregiver should accompany children while they are using the library. While in the library parents and caregivers are responsible for monitoring and regulating the behavior of their children.” A very liberal policy which affords me the opportunity to not be so restrictive but can be a bit much when I’ve got 5 year olds with no parents in sight climbing on my tree and folks that earnestly need help with choosing materials.

    What I’m trying to get across here is your kids are your kids and they are your responsibility. In Cari’s case she seems like a pretty responsible person but you have to put yourself in the librarian’s shoes. She has policy she must follow and if she’s not familiar with you or your children she may have lumped them into those kids who she’s constantly having to fuss at for whatever transgressions. Give her a break. Go speak with her and maybe next time something like this happens she’ll remember that you are one of the good ones and don’t allow your kids to become so disruptive in the library.

  55. Free-range is not a free for all; it is not about letting your child do whatever they want, when ever they wish. It is about teaching your child to be responsible for themselves and that includes being respectful to others. Free-range kids still need rules and boundaries. Free-range parents need to be role models by following the rules and regulations that are reasonable while challenging the ones that are draconian.
    In all the cases from the post I can see reason for the librarian to question the parent. The child repeatedly walking back and forth could become a bother to others depending on how he was walking (quietly or not), and where he was walking (was he passing a crowded area or people trying to read/study quietly). Yes, my child would have wanted to do this too at 4yo. Sorry, but I would have told him no and to find a book to look at instead, daddy will be back as soon as he gets his book.
    The 1yo with the tree, I agree with others, not cool. You should interrupt your conversation to correct your child.
    And no child should be running inside the library. It is not a playground.
    I discuss and reinforce with my kids what behaviors are acceptable in what places. It takes some time to sink in for most kids. I think that 8yo is about the right spot to expect responsible behavior in a library alone.
    I would talk with the librarians and ask details about how they enforce their rules, but remember – even when your child is not with you – you are still responsible for them and their behavior.

  56. Having read most of the replies I would like to suggest that from the perspective of both parents who want to practice Free-Range and librarians who would want to be supportive of Free-Range parents the best solution is for the parents to make personal connections with your librarians. Make sure that you and your children know the librarians and they know you, preferably by name.

    Personal connections will transcend any policy that the organization wants to impose. The more personal connections you have with the librarians the more flexible they will imagine they can be. They will have to draw the line somewhere, of course, and when they do they will be well prepared to confront you respectfully based on your established relationship.

    As the librarians pointed out, they are real people with cares and concerns just like the parents, so getting to know each other is the best way to anticipate how to get along best given the policies that define what’s appropriate.

    Enjoy,

    Don Berg

    Site: http://www.teach-kids-attitude-1st.com
    Free E-book: The Attitude Problem in Education

  57. If I can throw my 2cents in…. Our small-town libraries here are very child-friendly; I have never had a problem like this. I think the “personal connections” statement is very true– our librarians have known my kids since they were babies. I do agree that a library is not really a place for very young children to be wandering around– you can still take them to the library to expose them to it, while supervising them adequately. If you need quiet time to search for your own books, then maybe swap off with your husband.

    HOWEVER, the Christmas tree incident she mentions made me chuckle as I remembered that my (then) 2 year old son is the reason that our library’s Christmas tree no longer has glass ornaments. :) My son was only reaching out to touch the pretty bulb. It fell & broke, and as I quickly reached & leaned forward to grab him from cutting himself on the glass, my 4 month old fell out of the sling I was carrying him in. :( Luckily, all was well, although at the time I was hysterical that I just dropped my baby on the floor…in front of a huge room of other moms & tots during storytime! Ah, memories!

  58. One thing, that has not been mentioned by other library employees, is the terror that is often experienced by young children who suddenly realize they cannot see their parent or caregiver. i can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to take a deeply worried or extremely frightened child to hunt down their parent or caregiver in the library. We have the children under 8 policy also, so the child must have been behaving themselves or we would have noticed they were alone and found the parent before they got so upset. Now a crying or screaming and/or running distractedly around child is definitely disturbing to others.

  59. It’s not only large libraries that can be unsafe. Our community library is small, with the children’s section separated from the rest of the library by only a 3-foot-tall bookshelf. This means that noise travels and little ones do as well. It’s common to have 50 or 75 kids for storytime with moms chatting and losing track of the kids. Our library has automatic doors and we once found an 18-month old wandering the parking lot. We’ve also had patrons who’ve been banned for repeatedly using the computers to access porn and others who stalked and harassed the workers. I do think that a well-behaved 8 year-old could use the library but maybe it would be best to go with a friend or sibling.

  60. I am go to Harris County Libraries every week. There are tons of kids, some with parents some without. A good number of tween and teens are actually volunteers, shelving books, and helping with story times.

    Right before and right after a story time, movie, or other event the noise level goes up – simply because there are large numbers of people. Honestly the kids events are quieter than the adults. Other than that there is a buzz of people moving around, whispering about books, that type of thing.

    The librarians expect good behavior from adults and children. People know the librarians will enforce the rules, so they behave.

    Another observation. I go without kids and spend time in the kids section getting books I use in teaching. No-one has ever batted an eye about an adult without kids in the kids sections.

  61. At my library the policy is kind of like steps… I believe it is under 6 needs to be accompanied by an adult at all times.. from 6-8 they need to have a parent in the building at all times, but can be alone in the kids section for up to an hour… 9-12 can be alone for up to 3 hours… and over 12 they are free to come and go.

    I think it’s a decent policy, allowing your first or second grader to pick out their own books while you’re picking out yours, but not just dropping them off and leaving them there. Also accepting that some kids do need more supervision than others. There is no way I would trust my 5 yr old nephew much more than out of arms length, but my now 8 yr old daughter has been picking out chapter books downstairs on her own for a couple years now while I’m picking mine out on the main level…

    As far as the incidents described… I agree with many other comments… the 1 yr old should be kept within arms reach and the 4 yr old within eyesight…. I have also worked retail and can’t tell you how many horror stories I have of kids running wild, little kids lost, kids hurt from climbing shelves… personally I think keeping kids that are younger than school age close to you in a public building is a good idea…

  62. That sounds very much like the policy at my library (of which I am an employee.)
    At our branch the only thing that would have raised eyebrows about the scene you described was if you child was running back and forth, and we just would have asked him not to run.

    Our policy also goes on the describe disruptive behavior and it’s consequences — which is what the running would fall under.

  63. I am a librarian, and yes, to the person that asked, libraries in some communities can be more dangerous than other places. Look at the police log in your community to see how many calls they have at your library.

    Even so, I do allow my kids to go to the library alone (ages 7 & 11). I tell them to take their sibling if they have to go to the bathroom, and in the large main library, they are not allowed to leave the children’s section by themselves. Besides danger, I worry about them seeing something frightening when they are alone, such as someone ODing or collapsing and the police and ambulance being called.

    Some communities have started innovative programs where a social worker is stationed at the library to help librarians deal with the problems, and to provide the people who use the library as a refuge with actual services and not just a call to the police when things get out of hand. Unfortunately, funding for these types of programs are few and far between.

    Although in theory I agree with many of the commenters, the librarians in the original post seem overly harsh. I agree that kids should behave and that other patrons shouldn’t be disturbed, but I admit that my own kids have run, pulled books off shelves, yelled, cried, and worse in the library, and I never received anything close to the treatment this mom received for much more innocuous behavior. And, no, the staff at these libraries (we frequent many) didn’t know that I am a librarian. (I kept it a secret when my kids were young because I felt funny asking simple referenence questions when people know I was a librarian, but given that my kids were so rambunctious, I didn’t want to be distracted at the catalog.) Most children’s librarians are very accepting of kids’ behavior and realize that even normally well-behaved kids have a bad day.

    One last point – Many people working in the library are not librarians, especially those at the circulation desk or shelving. Some libraries do a much better job than others in training their non-librarian staff members about the mission and policies of the library. In this case it may be that the library clerks are interpreting the policy in ways other than what the drafters of the policy intended. This is another reason to talk to the library director. It may alert her/him that more attention needs to be paid to the training of the non-librarian staff, who are sometimes neglected and feel left out of any decision-making or higher-level training.

  64. Is this a NEW policy? I do understand that libraries are NOT to be used for baby sitting, so that is a valid discussion point. But this policy seems more to have been thought up by the legal department. If the children are unaccompanied and there is even a hint of any improper behavior by a staff member the city could get sued. So this may be a CYA situation, which is why the librarians are so touchy.

    As to an earlier post about libraries being a hotbed of pedophiliac activity? I did find a story while researching about a pedophile that raped a 6 year old in a library. But only ONE story, I could not find ANY other information. I think molestations occurring inside a library are pretty rare and I have no issues with my children wandering thru the childrens library at the main library here in San Francisco. AND the librarians don’t seem to mind either!

  65. And what if your one-year-old had been hurt falling on a broken Christmas decoration? Would you have sued?

  66. LauraL, great suggestion on the bracelets. Our pool has this kind of test, too. Yes, it would take effort but most worthwhile things do. (By way of comparison, the minimum age for unaccompanied kids at the pool is 6 – two years lower than the library. Yes, I realize that’s because lifeguards, unlike librarians, assume an in loco parentis role, but still, find it interesting that a place I would consider a far more LIKELY danger to young children than the library has a lower age limit.)
    I have contacted the local police to find out about the incidence of crime at the library. Maybe I’m wrong that the library is a safe place, and if so, such facts would alter my habits. We live in a small town (pop 15,000) that is the hub of a larger (maybe 150,000) region.
    Also I agree that the personal connections are important. That was one reason I was so surprised about both these incidents. Because we are there so often – attending story hour and special events as well as just going on our own – I believed both my kids and myself were well-known to the head youth librarian, who was involved in the first incident. I do not know the librarian involved the second incident, though the head youth librarian was also there witnessing it. I will take steps to remedy that.
    As far as those who have said blanket policies are necessary, I offer this other perspective from an academic librarian also in my community. She said that policies exist to back one up once a problem has occurred (i.e. the librarian who had the stories of kids together in the bathroom, the masturbation at the computer, etc.) So pre-emptively enforcing because a child “might” be disruptive seems to me to be a waste of what I agree is valuable librarian time.
    Again, thanks to all who commented. Good food for thought that I believe will help me be more effective, proactive and positive in my next move – both in regards to the policy, and how I handle my kids on our next visit.

  67. Interesting discussion – and I agree with everyone on the one year old. As far as the four year old, I think the staff should have left him alone, he obviously wasn’t causing any trouble.

    I actually thought the days of silent libaries were over? At my local libary (which has just been named Libary of the year here in Norway) kids are encouraged to play. They have a climbing wall, a piano and an electric guitar, as well as x-boxes, a playhouse and lots of books. I have no problem leaving my kids (3 and 7) in the kids section playing while I go look for books in the adult section. I can’t always see them, but I can certainly hear them. The staff in the libary thinks it’s great that kids come in to play, and they are hoping that they will pick up a book while they are there. And it’s working – they are lending out more books than most other libaries in Norway, both kids and adults books. They also hope that when the kids are always asking to go to the libary to play, the parents will use that time to find books to read for themselves as well as the kids, and they do. They have a big room that is quiet for the people who need that, but I have never seen many people use it. I have never seen anything questionable going on at the libary either.

    Maybe it’s time that the libaries updated their policies and became a fun place for children, instead of focusing on being quiet all the time. It’s not easy to get kids to read these days, with all the tv and games they have access too, so anything that can encourage kids to enjoy the libary is a good thing as far as I’m concerned.

  68. You know what…I think they need to just get rid of libraries all together. They seem like a waste anymore, at least in my city. When ever I go to my local branch there is almost no one in there and the times there are people there they are on the computers. You are allowed 30 minutes on the computer then you have to get off. Those people then sit and read or sleep in the arm chairs until they can get back on the computer.
    Same in the children’s section. The kids just sit on the computer the whole time and they aren’t doing research. They are playing games or getting on Club Penguin or whatever.
    Most of the time I see families come in they aren’t looking for books, they are renting movies because they are free (you just pay a deposit which you get back when you return the book).
    That library sucks. The kids section is great for picture books and easy readers and then for the juvenile section (for kids 10+) but for inbetween it sucks. There are very few easy chapter books for my middle 2 kids who are just learning to read.
    The “research” section of the library is very limited. I was looking for the God Delusion and it isn’t in either of my local branches. If I want it I have to special order it from the main branch (there are like 4 copies circulating in the 100 or so branches in the city)…really, geesh. The libraries do have rows upon rows of trashy romance novels but little else in the adult fiction section.

    I rarely take my kids to the library. We tend to just buy books when the kids want to read something new. I will say they are pretty lenient with the kids. Last time we were there I left the kids in the children’s section (which is right inside the door) with instructions to stay put and be quiet and if they weren’t they were in trouble when we got home then I went to look for what I was looking for. Twice my son (then 7) came looking for me and I asked him what he wanted and if he was wandering around who was watching his little sisters (who were 6 and 3 at the time).

    My kids were probably the best behaved kids there. The other ones were rowdy and loud…the ones with parents sitting right next to them because they aren’t taught to behave in public places. My kids know how to behave and understand if they don’t they are in all sorts of trouble when they get home.

    Last time I went to the library I went to a different branch. I thought I would sit and write in a quiet environment. Ha. It’s a pretty, new library, all open which sucks because everything echoes. There was a guy snoring away at one table, another women chatting away on her phone and two 13/14yo girls going on and on about some boy in their class while they stood in the racks just a few feet behind me. It was noisier then my house with my 4 kids in it. So I left. they didn’t even have individual little desks for people to sit at, just wide open tables and uncomfortable chairs.

  69. One year old tugging at the christmas tree? Disruptive, potentially dangerous behaviour.
    Four year old running from mom to dad and vice versa? Typically bored kid. Disruptive.

    A library is not a kindergarten nor are librarians babysitters. If you want to expose your kids to the library and literacy at an early age, take them to the library and do fun thing with them there, such as *looking at picture books*, *reading to them or having them read to in the storycorner*. If you or your husband want to do adult things in the library, such as looking at books you want for yourself, *don’t* take the kids.

    Your kids are *bored* in the library if they have to attend while you browse at hearts content. They get fractious. They wander off (to look at shiny things like christmas trees) or go galloping hence and forth between you and your spouse for some attention from either of you. Planting them in the kiddie section is not a solution, at that age. Sure, your son might enjoy himself for a while, but then he will go, “where’s mommy”, and look for you, and get lost and agitated and scared (“mommy’s gone! waah!”) and the librarians will have a ball searching for you, which is *not their job*!!

    Once kids are literate and able to go to school by themselves (say seven or eight), they are able to spend ‘alone time’ in the library. Would you let your one-year old and four year old walk to kindergarten on their own, three blocks away? No, and neither would Lenore. Not because of stranger danger, but because toddlers are just too young too be left to their own devices. They don’t *have* own devices. Freeranging is *not* about pushing eggs and unfeathered birds out of their nests before they can fly.

    I get really annoyed by parunts who think that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ is an excuse to be a sloppy parent. The librarian who grounded your kid in the corridor to wait for you was the village, and you didn’t agree with the village, did you? That’s called wanting to have your cake and eating it too. You want the village to look after your kid whilst you and hubby go and browse and are annoyed when the village slaps your wrist for it.

    Your kids are too young to enjoy the library on their own. Your not doing them a favour by dragging them with you when you just want to look at books for yourself. Either leave them at home with a sitter, do your browsing when they are not with you or altenate with your husband (“you go with the sprogs to look at picture books whilst I browse, then I will come to the kiddie corner and take over whilst you browse”. How difficult is *that*?)

  70. In incident #1, the original post said that the boy was walking between the children’s area and the adult stacks, about 50 yards away in another wing. It doesn’t say how he was behaving during this — was he walking quietly? Or was he trotting along, calling “Daddy! Daddy! Mommy let me come see you!”?

    A good library policy, like the Harris County one, makes it clear that there is *one* standard of behavior in the library. If retirees Fred and Ethel came into the library and Ethel ran over to shake the Christmas tree, or Fred was walking between the adult stacks and the children’s area (where Ethel was picking out books with the grandkids) calling for his wife, you’d be appalled. Basically, in a library, if an adult shouldn’t be doing something, a kid shouldn’t be doing it either.

  71. I work in a library and this is my take on what happened in your library. I’d say the policy at your library is too stringent, but was probably instituted with the safety of children in mind, so I wouldn’t be so hard on them. Most of the unattended children we see do not have parents that have a particular view on child raising, they are parents who don’t supervise their children at all. Those children are at real risk. I would suggest that you discuss your library’s policy with the children’s librarian or the director of your library and let them know of your concerns.
    I would also suggest that to the person who left the comment about closing libraries. If the staff doesn’t know you have a concern, they can’t do anything about it. Libraries are there to serve the community and in most cases are more than willing to address your needs and concerns. Libraries are also changing as the world changes, so, yes, there are people who only come for internet access. People who can’t afford their own computers. And there are people being tutored and people with noisy children and teenagers who lack proper manners and people who only borrow videos and homeless people. They are all part of your community, whether you like it or not. If you don’t go there or don’t voice your concerns, you are part of the problem, not part of any solution.

  72. I’m all for Free-Range, and I have a 2-year-old son. I’m also a library director in a busy public library in the Northeast. Please don’t be offended by the librarian having done her job — unless, of course, she displayed an obvious attitude problem while doing so. We get hundreds of children, parents, and others in and out of our particular library every day, most of whom obey the rules, don’t disturb other patrons, and don’t put themselves or others in danger. And then there are the ‘notable few’ who turn our hair gray. In today’s litigious society, you have to understand that librarians worry about little kids running around (possibly) unsupervised in a public place. _Anyone_ can (and does) come into a public library. Anyone. We are parents, too — and it freaks us out.

    Instead of making an issue out of it, please try and quietly make peace with the librarian. I’m sure she will understand your point of view, especially if she gets to know you and your family. And it’ll probably make your trips to the library much more pleasant in the future!

  73. “So many posters are really concerned about kids running wild in library. What if… Really it is the same thinking that it could happen that my child will be kidnapped so I must not let them out of my sight. The child might be disruptive, so parents must not let them out of their sight.”

    But this isn’t a fair comparison. The whole point is that child kidnapping in public almost never happens, and a one year old acting disruptive when not closely attended happens as often as not. So it’s not “helicoptery” to make sure your kids are behaving appropriately, while it is helicoptery to think someone’s going to grab them the minute you turn your back.

  74. I’m a librarian. Among the other scenarios mentioned by others where children can or have been hurt in the library, here are some I’ve seen first-hand because a parent wasn’t nearby:
    * Fingers caught in closing doors
    * Toddler in the street with oncoming traffic
    * Teen boy making sexual advances to young girl
    * Registered sex offender sitting near the children’s area
    * Man arrested (unknown crime) and put in handcuffs near children’s area
    * Heavy signs pulled off the wall and injuring a child’s shoulder

    And my library is not in a high crime area!

    This is not to mention the damage to library property I’ve seen from unattended children. Your children may be well-behaved, but librarians respond because of all the other situations they’ve seen before.

  75. * Fingers caught in closing doors
    —This happens at homes and schools and any building.

    * Toddler in the street with oncoming traffic
    —That’s scary – no matter where. Store, home, library…

    * Teen boy making sexual advances to young girl
    —You think this doesn’t happen anywhere else?

    * Registered sex offender sitting near the children’s area
    —What was he convicted of? Predatory pedophilia?

    * Man arrested (unknown crime) and put in handcuffs near children’s area
    —Yeah, and they get arrested on the street, in movie theaters, grocery stores…

    * Heavy signs pulled off the wall and injuring a child’s shoulder
    —OK, I have to give you this one. Why would they be trying to remove the sign anyway? And this happened multiple times, or a one-off? Heavy things get pulled down at home, school, work, etc., too…

    Look, I’m not saying these observations aren’t valid. However, they also are not unique to libraries.

  76. I’m a sad to say some (and only some) of the librarians who have commented here make me think there is a real attitude problem at some libraries about serving children.

    I’m kind of horrified that anyone would think it’s reasonable to say – we can’t ban [some element of the public they think is unsuitable for children to be around] so we’re going to ban kids who don’t come with their own body guard instead.

    It seems like the Egyptian solution to women being raped in Cairo a decade or two ago – a curfew on women. Great! That solves the problem! What a lovely, considerate and supportive society.

    I mean, I understand it can be a problem, and that libraries are unable to guarantee that nothing unsavory happens, but it should be a matter of informing parents and letting people make a choice (just as they do when they decide to let their kids go anywhere). Not of taking choice and opportunity away from those who have not, and are not about to, abuse the facilities.

    I fully support rules that are intended to ensure the library is usable for its intended purpose, and some of the rules may be justifiable on those grounds. But to deny people the right to use public facilities because of what others might do to them is really inappropriate for a public service in a democratic society. This type of reasoning eats away at parental choice and authority until there is little room to manoeuvre.

  77. I was not fortunate enough to have a neighborhood library growing up. However, I have two children. I kept
    my daughter and son close to me in public because I didn’t want them to get lost or to create a disturbance. Dispite my vigilance, my daughter left a store with a book, which I prompltly returned.
    I work in a public library and regularly approach preverbal children and ask the little boy or girl to show me therir “Bip Person.” The adult is often quickly found.

  78. Aaron, what happened in the article you posted was terrible. But I’m not sure what point you wanted to make. That kids shouldn’t go to the library at all? That the parent should hold their hands literally every minute? Sometimes terrible things happen, but we cannot prevent every single terrible thing.

    Once in a while, a child is kidnapped right from his own bed at night. Does that mean parents and kids should all sleep together in one room? Or that parents should sleep in shifts so one of them can sit up and watch the kids at all times?

    Most people don’t think so. We acknowledge that there’s a very very small risk of a child being kidnapped from his bed at night, and we live our lives without too much worry about it.

  79. I’m a librarian and most libraries I have worked at have “Unattended Children” policies. It seems like the age has been creeping up for many libraries as far as not being allowed to be in the library without a parent. I was shocked when at a training recently that the presenter felt that no child under the age of 9 has any business being in the library w/o a parent. I used to go to the library by myself when I was 8 and no one blinked an eye and I know I wouldn’t have been there as often if I had to go with my mom or dad all the time.

    That being said parents do need to understand that library staff do not act in loco parentis nor are they expected to under law. I know many parents are surprised to find this out but staff get to know those kids that come in on their own and tend to look out for them. I see other people commenting on the ways kids can get hurt in the library but come on, kids can/do get hurt everywhere often under the watchful eye of a parent. Accidents happen! My 4 year old son hurt himself when he tripped over my foot because he was so excited to go into the library!

    While I don’t think a 1 or 4 year old should be in the library by themselves, certainly a 7 or 8 year old should be allowed to come in after school to hang out, do homework or read after school and not told to get out because their parent isn’t around. I also don’t think you should have to hold your 4 or 5 year old child’s hand the whole time you’re there either. By that age they can look at books by themselves and I don’t see what the big deal is that your son was in the children’s section before you. Perhaps the librarian should be happy to see a boy so excited about the library!

  80. I agree that this may be more of an issue of trying to ensure that the kids don’t bother other patrons. Our kids are generally only adorable and precious to us. Even as a parent of a young child, I don’t want to be bothered by other people’s children when I go out (particulary on those rare occasions when mine isn’t with me). I don’t expect kids to be little adults but I shouldn’t have to put up with them being obnoxious and bothersome either.

    As for the first instance, I stand 100% with the librarians, although certainly not for the danger reasons. Sorry but this was just a simple lack of consideration to other other patrons in the adult area on your and your husband’s part. If I were a patron working or reading along your child’s repeated path, he would have bugged the crap out of me. Even if he was walking perfectly silently and politely each and every pass (highly unlikely for me to believe as a mother of a 4 year old), his constant pacing would have been distracting. This is not appropriate activity for a library.

    The librarian was 100% right about the tree as well. It’s their property and they have a right to tell you to keep your kid’s hands off of it.

    As for the 4-year old going into the children’s section alone, I have to wonder if he wasn’t being disruptive. I know that my 4 year old is generally very excited when we first get to the library. She is more likely to be loud and distruptive. Once I calm her down with a book or game and get her back into the “we’re calm and quiet in the library” vibe, I can generally leave her for a few minutes and go talk someone or even quickly get a book. If he was not being disruptive, the librarian’s behavior was out of line.

  81. [...] Does This Libary WANT to Make Kids Feel Unwelcome? Hi Readers! Here’s a note from a Free-Ranger named Cari Noga. Let’s give her some ideas! — [...] [...]

  82. to “A Librarian”: pedophiles can’t groom kids by playing Halo on public computers–Halo is an XBOX game…

    I skipped the rest of the comments after reading that, it incensed me that much. Yes there are creepy people, yes there are out of control kids, yes there are librarians that are clearly out of touch with the society they are supposed to be in touch with.

    If a four year old was calmly walking back and forth by my desk I wouldn’t do anything about it. Running or being disruptive? I definitely would. I have plenty of parents that come in with multiple kids and while one is being dealt with by the parent, the others often abscond. I usually just keep an eye on them from a distance unless they are starting to pull books down from the shelves or trying to leave the library.

  83. I finally found our policy (Buffalo Erie county Library -NYS)
    “Under Article 65, Section 3205 of New York State Education Law, each minor from six to sixteen years of age shall attend upon full time instruction. Accordingly, access to the library during regular school hours (without special permit or previous arrangement with school officials) is denied for minors between the ages of six and sixteen. No children under six years of age may be left unattended in any library at any time. Library staff will not be responsible for children who have been left without adult supervision. Adult patrons who are not engaged in library activities that require materials from the children’s area shall be asked to relocate to other areas of the library. The staff reserves the right to seek the intervention of appropriate law enforcement or social services agencies, as required by individual circumstances.”
    This is awesome… no wonder I spent so much time by myself in the library.. We had lots of little community libraries and kids would spend summers there reading since they could WALK or BIKE there. Imagine that… the policy still stands. Finally, my girl is 6.. I can look for a book myself while she looks for hers.. all 50 ft away and no one can say a word. WOOHOO!

  84. My daughter, at age one, was simply standing by the Christmas tree at home and I thought, aw, how cute. Next thing I knew, the entire tree was toppling over. So, yeah, the librarian was fully justified in “shooing [the child] away,” and then some. Not only could the tree have been damaged, but the child could have been injured.

    Our library procedures stipulate that a child under six must be accompanied by parent or guardian, which seems entirely reasonable to me. One day a woman came to the reference desk with a toddler, and the toddler took off running. She just stayed at the desk and kept asking her question. “Ma’am, are you going after him?” I queried, startled, “Oh, no, I can’t catch him, anyway.” The kid was out of site and way back by the internet lab, so I insisted she go get him.

    People have different parenting styles, but in the library, they should follow the rules. As a poster above said, a LOT of parents tune out noise and misbehavior and everyone deserves an enjoyable library experience.

  85. I was the librarian that posted about the kids being pulled out of the bathroom together. I’ve also broken up numerous fights, between kids, teens and adults. I found a drunk man passed out in a shopping cart near our entrance one morning. I had to clean up blood after a 6 year old embedded one of her teeth in our wall after being told to stop running by an employee. I trespassed a mentally unstable woman for spitting on some young boys for laughing at the basket of teddy bears she was carrying. One of our restrooms was shut down as a crime scene for hours after a man exposed himself to a young boy. We had a father attack a teen who talked a kid into meeting him at the library through Myspace. I could go on.

    Unnattended children policies aren’t out to get parents and kids who use the library as it is intended, which is 98% of people. They are to keep children from being victims and to keep library staff from having to act as parents.

    I disagree with the poster who said that the librarians here have bad attitudes and want to limit kids from coming to the library. I love kids. I want them to come to the library. You said that parents should be able to make their own choice. But if we let parents make their own choices, some of them are going to make really bad ones. Some of them are going to let their 5 year old watch the toddler while they run to Walmart. Some of them are going to let their 7 year old and his friends hang out at the library from 3:30 until 9pm every day until they get picked up by the police for setting the trash cans on fire. Some of them are going to ignore their screaming 3 year old until another patron slaps or curses them. And it might sound like I’m uncaring, but it’s a lot easier to require kids to come with an adult than it is to let the library be a free for all and have to constantly police what is going on. If we didn’t have this policy, we’d turn into an after school day care center in a heartbeat. As it is, we have 2 people on the children’s desk from 3:30 to 9pm and it still isn’t enough. We’ve have to triple our staff, which isn’t going to happen while our budgets are being slashed.

  86. Kids librarian – I said *some* (and only some) of the librarians seemed to have a poor attitude. You endorse the thinking I find objectionable in your post, but I’m loathe to call it a poor attitude. So I take back that wording. Nevertheless I think some of the attitude is inappropriate. Here’s what I mean:

    You say “But if we let parents make their own choices, some of them are going to make really bad ones.” This is true – but that’s true everywhere. Those same parents will make really bad choices about their kids whether they let them go to the library or not.

    I merely say library policies should focus on ensuring the library is used as intended by all participants – not on trying to make parents conform to a style of parenting you approve of. This may mean some of those same policies still exist, it’s just the idea that library policies should ever really be about deciding parenting choices outside of that objective that I find inappropriate.

  87. I worked in a library for several years.

    I don’t think this mother is being fair to the library. She visits weekly, apparently, probably for rather short amounts of time.

    Multiply that by hundreds of families with multiple hundreds of kids, and things can get pretty crazy. The library I worked at has an 8-and-younger rule about being accompanied by an older person. Patrons routinely ignored the rule and we had packs of kids using foul language, leaving trash everywhere, intimidating younger kids, “re-arranging” the books just for fun, etc.

    Perhaps this woman’s kids behave perfectly at every second and would never, ever, ever cause even the most minor disruption. However, I doubt it. Kids are kids and they will behave as such. It’s not the library workers’ job to redirect them if the parent is not there to, and libraries have policies to ensure that people do not feel discriminated against.

    I know that parents of this ideological bent often think their kids are above reproach, but as someone who witnessed the behavior of the kids of many of these parents, I can assure you that they often aren’t.

  88. Pssst… “Library” is misspelled in the post title…

  89. “When I worked retail, I saw this a lot. One woman was allowing her toddler to climb on the shelves a few aisles over. When I approached her and asked her to keep an eye on him and not to allow him to climb, she tore me a new one. Minutes later, a crash and the kid was on his way to the ER for stitches–and she sued the store.”

    Did that REALLY happen or did you make it up?

  90. I have seen parents argue with managers that their kids “aren’t harming anything, when the kids are using pallets of goods as a jungle gym.

    The worse was just before Ike. My grocery store had stacks of water bottles on pallets outside. A Dad was entertaining his kids by allowing them to climb all over the pallets. These weren’t small kids either. They were plenty big enough to have been helping people load up supplies or securing stuff around their own house.

    After Ike I was at the hardware store. Another man had a pack of kids about the same age. They were pitching in and helping people load supplies into their cars.

    This first were nonparents. The 2nd were free range parents raising good citizens.

  91. Well, as a new children’s librarian myself, I realize that our library has a fairly liberal policy. Children come and go as they please, regardless of age and it doesn’t seem to cause many problems. It seems more often the kids whose parents are with them, but perhaps on a computer or browsing for books, that cause the most issues. And by issues I mean incidents exatcly like the tree-pulling. We had a donated tree and it was easily 30 feet tall and very unstable. Even when the city works department came and made it as sturdy as they could, it tipped over the next day when toddler pulled on one side. His mother was on the computer and thought he was coloring. The tree fell over the study tables area and thank God no one was sitting there! Also, I’ve seen a few suspicious people who like to ‘hover’ near the children’s section. It makes me afraid when I see small children playing and oblivious parents. So, yes, your library is problably right to ask you to keep close to your kids. I know how embarassing it is to have someone point out what you feel is perfectly fine behavior. I have 5 children ages 9 to 1 and i’ve had busy bodies in stores tell me they were ‘tcouching’ too many items! But like most everyone else here, free range doesn’t mean not having them clsoe to you. And a four year old ‘walking’ back and forth can be extremely distracting if he’s stomping, humming, chattering, or you just feel like you have to keep an eye on him so he doesn’t get lost.

  92. And Mel, I often confuse Halo (xbox games) and World of Warcraft (all those other online games). It’s rather short-sighted of you to dismiss the librarian’s other comments after one typo. It would be very difficult to have any reasonable discussion with you as you would be pouting and flouncing out of the room if I incorrectly used a word.

  93. I work with the Columbus Metropolitan Library and was very intrigued by your post, so I contacted our youth services administrator to discuss our current policy.

    We do have an unattended child policy, but the age is 7. We serve very diverse neighborhoods and while many parents wouldn’t dream of sending a 7 year old to the library or store alone, many kids in urban neighborhoods are on their own long before age 7 and would never be able to come to a library (because their parents would never bring them) if the age was higher. The bottom line is that any child who is at least 7 must be able to adhere to our Code of Conduct when in the library.

    The general consensus from our viewpoint is that some sort of policy is necessary even though we agree that the librarian was a little over zealous in enforcement.

  94. You know, I don’t have problems with rules for kids at libraries. But what I’m see is policies and attitudes that children are guilty until their parents arrive. It is a blanket statement that no child under 8 or 9 or whatever can sit quietly and read. Not all kids are disruptive but the ones that are ruin it for everyone else.

    I just looked up the Chicago Public Library policy and it is no children under 7 left unattended. The policy also states if they find a child under 7 they will first try to locate an adult (or person that is responsible for the child) and inform them of the rules. If no person can be found they fall DCFS.
    Now if the child is any age and being disruptive then they can be kicked out of the library after one warning. If they continue to come back and cause trouble and no parent can be reached they will call the police. In other words, kids are supposed to behave like any one else in the library…be quiet and don’t bother people.

    It’s a pretty good policy that actually outlines what the children’s librarian is there for (to help kids learn how to use a library, find books they need and to teach them how to properly behave in a library…like shooshing them when they get too loud) and what they are supposed to do if they find a child unattended or disruptive.

    If I ever left my kids at a library (my older kids are all 7 and up) and found out they were misbehaving they would be in so much trouble they would beg for a 2nd chance to prove they could be good. They aren’t always perfect but at least they try. In fact I’ve seen them try harder to follow the rules then many adults who sit in the library and gab on their cell phones despite a huge sign that says no talking on phones and to turn off the ringer when inside the building. Where are the librarians then? Nobody ever kicks the disruptive adults out.

  95. Dear Parents,

    When asked about the library’s reaction to children being unattended, let me tell you what is happening here at my library where I am the head Children’s Librarian.

    We, my library director, me and staff of the library, just found out last week that if we want to have insurance coverage from sexual abuse allegations for the staff, we must have 2 staff member or 1 staff and a volunteer that has been given a background check with any any unattended children.

    That means if I want to allow a “free range” child in my area, I have to call another staff member away from their work to be with me while the child has the run of the place.

    Since over the past 5 years our budget has been cut to the bare bones, we’ve had to drop evening hours, and we’ve been given a hiring freeze for the next 2 to 5 years, you can see how pulling someone away from their work (which includes buying and processing the material you want to use and check out) could have a pretty big effect on the quality of service we can bring to our patrons.

    It is a sad state of affairs that the world has come down to this, but it is reality. The American way of sueing first and asking questions later has made it so that my library may have to cut programing in half and require parents to attend programs we have for the past decade let children attend on their own.

    I too like to see the children explore on their own and think that children picking out their own books really enhances their love of books and reading.

    So before you yell at the librarian who insists you stay with your child, be reminded that she may be just protecting herself/hisself from liability.

    Good luck on your campaign to bring some freedom back to our children.

  96. Jen,
    At my library we kick disruptive adults out, much more often than disruptive kids. Usually for refusing stop talking on a cell phone or for being verbally abusive to staff or other customers. Kids (esp. the ones there without a parent) will usually behave after a warning — not so with the adults.

  97. I am a librarian in a public library in Maryland. Our policy is similar to this woman’s library. It is a state law that children under 8 may not be left with anyone under the age of 13; therefore, that is the age our policy uses. Several people have given good strategies for both understanding the library’s point of view and encouraging the library to possibly be more understanding.

  98. If the main children’s librarian knows you, and she was the one remonstrating with your husband about your son’s behaviour, he must have been disruptive somehow. Wandering three times between parents seems like two too many times to me. Either that, or a patron she knew was unsavory may have been around and she was genuinely trying to help. Sometimes librarians do that.

  99. Your children should be able to walk freely in the library, especially in the children’s section. As a child going to the library was one of my favourite places to go to.

    My mam and I would part ways at the entrance, she went to the adult section, i went to the children’s section. When either of us was finished we would go look for the other.

    Our library wasn’t huge, so I understand this might not be possible for everyone. but to stop a child from walking over to his other parent by himself is just ridiculous.

    I have worked in retail too, a DIY store to be exact. This store was huge and yes sometimes a child lost sight of his/her parent but they were always brought to the info desk by another customer helping out. I worked there for 5 years and the only bad thing that happened was a child getting into an accident with one of the carts. But even he was fine after a trip to the doctor.

  100. I’m afraid I don’t have solutions to offer, but we struggle with similar issues at the library. My son loves, LOVES going to the library. But he’s a young toddler. And it’s not so easy to keep him right at my side, especially if I have to stand in line to check out books or wait at the counter during the check out process. Keeping more than one child at one’s side would be even more difficult.

    We’ve received our share of chides from the librarians when he pulls on the stands that mark the line, plays behind curtains or runs around the library. I definitely see the perspective of the libraries, who are perhaps concerned with safety and potential legal issues, as well as non-parents who want kids to be under control. But there is a certain age when it’s not so easy to control a small child and focus on doing something. And I also want my child to maintain his love for the library and not see it as a forbidding place.

    I think parents doing their best to keep their children in line and teaching their older children how to behave on their own is a good thing. But I also think a little understanding and support from staff and others would help the frazzled parents. We are, after all, only trying to foster a love of reading.

  101. I’ve really enjoyed reading your articles. You obviously know what you are talking about! Your site is so easy to navigate too, I’ve bookmarked it in my favourites :-D

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