Outrage of the Week: No One Under 12 Allowed In Library! (Without Guardian)

Here’s a good idea for any community: Keep those darn kids out of the library! Certainly don’t want them milling around books and such. Next thing you know, they might want to take one home with ’em, just like a bottle of scotch. Luckily this small North Carolina regional library knows what’s good for kids. Read on! 

The Hyconeechee Regional Library staff would like to thank all of our customers for making 2009 Summer Reading a success!  We hope that you will continue your library visits throughout the rest of the summer and into the upcoming school year.

To ensure a safe and enjoyable library visit for all, the Hyconeechee Regional Library staff would like to remind you of our Safe Child Policy.  All Hyconeechee Regional Libraries require that children 12 years of age and under be accompanied by a parent or caretaker when visiting the library. Parents/Caretakers are responsible for the child’s safety and behavior at all times while in the library building.

If library staff is aware of an unattended child, they will try to contact a parent or legal guardian.  If unable to locate a parent or guardian, staff will contact appropriate authorities.

To review the complete Hyconeechee Regional Library System Safe Child Policy, please visit our website at www.co.orange.nc.us/library/policies/safechild

Thank you for using the Hyconeechee Regional Library System.
www.co.orange.nc.us/library/Hyconeechee

And thank you, Hyconeechee regional libarians! You know what I always say: A safe child is an illiterate child.

  — Lenore (who also thanks a Free-Range Kids reader for sending in this gem.)

117 Responses

  1. Ugh – that’s just awful. Next up – the community book burning bonfire event!

  2. Oh my — I was a child without friends and without the library, I would’ve been a suicidal child. My mom would drop me off while she went to the grocery store, and I was just in heaven, picking out laundry basketfuls of books. I have a book coming out, and the final thank you in my acknowledgments is to the Farmington Hills, Michigan librarians from 1970-1982, who literally saved my life — by not prohibiting me from being alone in the library, it turns out, along with all the rest.

  3. Having a few friends who are librarians (and one who is a children’s librarian). I’m pretty sure that the real reason behind the no kids under 12 rule is so that the librarians don’t become the daily free daycare centers/babysitters for kids whose parents need to work.

  4. I’m pretty sure Singlemom nailed it, though then the problem is parents who take advantage of the libraries and not the libraries for fighting back.

  5. Wow. When I was ten years old I would walk from school to the library with two of my friends once a week and we’d hang out there (reading, giggling, whatever) until our parents picked us up. I also went there along many many times. If parents are indeed abusing the library as a free babysitter I’d like to have a little chat with them, because my time at the library was some of the best time spent in my entire youth and they have effectively guaranteed that no kids in their community will ever have that. Good job, guys.

  6. Singlemom is almost certainly right. It has nothing to do with safety and everything to do with the fact that a lot of young children can’t/won’t behave when alone.

  7. Is this policy typical of most libraries, or is it unusual? I have no idea, but I’m curious.

  8. Having worked in a library for seven years, singlemom couldn’t be more right. It’s unfortunate, and it’s entirely the fault of the parents.

  9. Surely if this is a case of librarians not wanting to become de facto daycare providers– and I’m confident this is the case– the library can find a better way to express that concern than passing it off as child safety. That just feeds the incorrect perception that the library isn’t safe. Besides, I’m sure librarians have to police the actions of older library patrons already.

  10. I’m a teacher/mom, and I’ve got to agree with Singlemom. I’ve KNOWN people who’ve used the library as a drop-off childcare center. The problem isn’t the free-range kid who knows how to behave in the library and wants to research or check out a few books. The problem is the child who has no clue how to behave properly (or just won’t), has no purpose for being at the library, and is sent/dropped off because the parents thinks their child will be safe there when they can’t/won’t afford a babysitter.

  11. I took a look at their policy–it does have some bigger problems. Children under 12 aren’t supposed to use the internet workstations without an adult sitting next to them, nor are they to leave their children in the kids’ section while working on the internet themselves. As the parent of a 10-yr-old gifted child who spends swaths of time researching independently in the library while I sit and read without shadowing him (because how stupid would that be), I find that part of their policy downright offensive.

  12. Oh my gosh. I have children younger than 12 that I would trust to be at the library alone. My 10 years old are totally responsible and could spend an hour at the library and be fine. But of course, if I lived in this town that wouldn’t be possible.

    Seriously…having working in libraries for years…I can tell you that the kids between 12 and 18 are just as bad (sometimes worse) than kids younger than 12.

    I can understand they don’t want to be baby-sitters…but I agree…call it what it is.

    This isn’t about safety.

    I wanted to send my 12 year old and a friend to the water park across the street by themselves. The deepest part of the entire park is 4 feet. My 12 year old knows how to behave and would be fine.

    But…of course I couldn’t send her because you have to 14 to be able to go without an adult. Are you kidding me?

    14?

  13. I meant nor are “adults,” not “they.”

  14. Because it is the kids that want to go to the library alone that you really have to look out for. I mean what do they want all those books for? Learning? I don’t think so.

  15. It seems a more direct solution would be to prohibit misbehaving children, not unattended children.

  16. So, if they’re misbehaving, kick them out. Librarians are pretty good at being masters of their domains: I’m not sure why this would be a problem.

    If a kid is using the library as a “babysitter”, and the kid is behaving, then maybe the kid has reached an age where he/she doesn’t _need_ a babysitter.

  17. I too grew up as Neil Gaiman said, “a feral child in the stacks” at my public library. In my current state it is a state law that children under the age of 12 are not allowed to be left alone in public buildings. As a Children’s Librarian, I have mixed feelings about the issue. I want kids to feel free to explore our materials and most kids do, but babysitting on top of trying to do our jobs is really hard. Every child is different so I do think it is unfair to blast the rule this library set. In fact, if you look, most libraries have such a policy (if it is not a state law). Some parents prepare their kids to be alone in public spaces, most don’t. I have sat with kids who are forgotten after the library closes, kids in tears because they can’t find their parent who has left and frantically tried to find a way to contact an adult when a child has been injured. Not fun! As a Children’s Librarian in NY I have been spit at and cursed at (but thankfully never shoved) by kids and teens. I have cleaned up their messes and their sickness. I have dried their tears and kept them busy with games and stories. Kids as young as 5 have been in my library without an adult to supervise them. That’s right – 5 years old. So I take offense at the implication that libraries are trying to prohibit access to children with this rule. It is more like trying to provide backup when librarians have problems with the care-giving adults. Children’s Librarians want to provide a rich and positive experience for every child and parent who comes through our door.

  18. Kennyfelder, I work in a library in New England and I’m not aware of any regional libraries that have such a policy. We’re actually very lax as far as policies go (aiming to give every one as much freedom as possible unless it becomes necessary to restrict), and thus far that doesn’t really get abused.

    However, this semi-regional story has really struck the library community and prompts us to remind parents that a library is every bit as public as a train station, and the only person whose job it is to watch the children is the parent. I can’t tell you what I see children try to get away with while the parent sits like a zombie, glued to a computer. The parents deserve the policies more than the children, as singlemom mentioned, and I really do think this is the purpose

    Not fear-mongering, just promoting responsibility.

    http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2008/04/03/boy_describes_alleged_library_rape_in_videotape_interview/

  19. Our library has a policy that kids under 7 must be supervised. They like to have an adult in the building for kids under 12 but you can leave them in the children’s section if you like. Since I know several of the librarians personally I know they won’t bother any kid who is behaving and seems happy no matter what the age, though they might check in with kids who look younger than 7 just to make sure they’re ok. Kids who aren’t behaving get a gentle lesson on expected behavior before caregivers are called in. If caregivers can’t be reached then authorities have to be called, but I honestly can’t remember ever hearing that they had to do that.

    I have heard the librarians mention that there are some parents who do use the library as babysitting, meaning the parents go off to work or a meeting, and the librarians don’t like that simply because of the message it seems to be sending to children under 12 that they aren’t worth hiring a caregiver or that kids can just be dumped whenever and adult in their lives wants to do something else.

    Our library has recently been rated #2 in the nation for its size and it really is a great place for children. There’s no fine for children’s books until you get to the “buy it” stage, but even then the library lets kids read off their fines instead of paying them. If only I could do that as an adult!

    I feel sad that a library has to be so draconian about requiring an adult presence, but I can certainly understand the desire not to have responsibility for someone else’s kids without even being asked. I just think they went about it the wrong way. Sounds like it needs an educational campaign aimed at parents rather than a policy.

  20. I agree that this policy is about not imposing involuntary child care duties on Librarians.

    I also agree that it should be rephrased to give Librarians’ recourse to calling parents/authorities or kicking out misbehaving individuals (including adults). It should set a standard for acceptable behavior and consequences should the standard not be met. It’s more logical to base it on the undesired behavior than the age.

    It just happens that minors have an additional layer of authority in the parent/guardian for enforcement of social behavioral standards. It could state that police will be called if the minor misbehaves and the parent does not take responsibility.

  21. I was a children’s and young adult librarian for 20 years. This is a complicated issue for librarians. I have worked in libraries where young school age children are ordered by parents to spend every afternoon in the library from 3 to 6. Many of the kids don’t want to be there, act out, bother other patrons. Often parents can’t be contacted. Quite a few times young children are not picked up by parents when the library closes. If we can’t contact the parents, we are forced to call the police. I recall the time that a 2 year old fell and hit his head; his 4 year old brother was responsible for him, and we could not reach either parent.

    Libraries are public. Librarians are far too busy to be babysitters. I think the library’s age limit was extreme, but this is a serious problem.

  22. Crap. That’s my library.

  23. Well this makes perfect sense. After all, we all know that if you read too soon after eating, you could get severe cramps and the libraries just don’t have the money to keep lifeguards on staff.

  24. So, if they’re misbehaving, kick them out. Librarians are pretty good at being masters of their domains: I’m not sure why this would be a problem.

  25. So, if they’re misbehaving, kick them out. Librarians are pretty good at being masters of their domains: I’m not sure why this would be a problem.

    Well, I can appreciate that it may be difficult to kick out, say, a five year old when you have no idea where the parents are or if the kid even lives nearby.

    The question is how strictly they enforce it. My money is on “they probably don’t, until or unless the kid is a hassle, and then they have this rule to fall back on”.

  26. Like just about everyone else here, I’m sure singlemom is right. What’s interesting, though, is that they thought they could pass this off as a safety concern with a minimum amount of hassling from the community. It’s symptomatic of where we are: all anyone needs to do anymore is shout, “OMG kids are in danger, safety, safety, safety!” and no one will question it. This “shut it down by invoking the children” is how increasingly asinine sex crimes laws keep getting passed, too. It’s the old “if it saves one child, it’s worth any abridgment of freedom and autonomy we can dream up” logic. Except the librarians–who I’m sure know that this rule has nothing to do with safety–are employing it for their own good. In a way, you have to admire that. In another way, you wish they’d found another solution. Perhaps some sort of detention center for the misbehavers, and then an automatic turnaround at the door if Mummy tries to drop the little brat off while she gets her manicure next week? Children who are quietly behaving themselves presumably aren’t a daycare burden, even if their parents are using the library as a kind of daycare. Frankly, the latter situation doesn’t seem all that problematic to me, as long as no one turns around and sues when Little Madison slips on the floor and breaks her leg because the library served as “de facto caretaker” or some legal mumbo jumbo like that.

  27. Patti’s library appears to have a sane policy. All I know is that when I was in elementary school, my school was one block from the public library. We were allowed to walk there at lunch. Also, I’m sure my mother dropped me off at times on Saturday. Being on my own in the children’s section of that library was one of my favorite things ever. I can’t describe how much I loved it. I loved having time to look at all the books and only myself to worry about. (Coming from a family of 5 children, that was a luxury.) I feel sorry for all the children who can’t have that feeling of excitment and independence in their library.

    Today when I go to the library, I see plenty of kids running around and talking loudly. They’re all with their parents, who are doing absolutely nothing about their behavior.

  28. My oldest daughter will be 7 in Oct. This summer, I started letting her walk to the library a few blocks away on her own. I’m pretty sure this is in violation of library policy, but I can’t find the policy on the website to check. She’s tall for her age and well-behaved, so nobody’s questioned us about it so far.

    OTOH, I get REALLY annoyed when other people’s children are misbehaving and being disruptive in the library, and nobody does anything about it.
    Maybe they shoudldaddress misbehavior instead of setting arbitrary age limits.

  29. It seems to me that there’s a common-sense, formal way to handle this: require that if children below a certain age are to be allowed alone in the library, their parents have to have previously signed an agreement with the library outlining exactly what the library will and won’t do (e.g. not act as a babysitter) and specifying behavior rules, with the library being able to suspend or withdraw the agreement if the rules aren’t being followed.

  30. Our library just instituted a similar policy. However, ours is children under 9 must be with an adult. Our librarian said it was mainly due to behavior issues. They also get a lot of kids coming in during school hours so they said no kidsof any age without an adult during school hours. Our branch said as long as they know kids are homeschoolers they will still be allowed by themselves. I think 12 and under is a little ridiculous but singlemom is right. We are at the library almost every day and our poor library staff spend most of their time trying to get kids to behave, although IMO it is the teens that act up not the younger children.

  31. Is there a law against being unattended when you are under 12 years old? Why is this an issue for the “proper authorities”?

  32. I live in one of the 3 counties served by this library system and use the 2 libraries in my county, one quite extensively, with my 2 y.o. son. I can’t speak specifically to enforcement (no one would mistake my son for a 12 year old, and I don’t send him to the library alone … yet), but I have in fact found the library in question to be very welcoming to (even very small) children. It has friendly spaces set up for reading and lolling about, and has always been quite accommodating of the fact that a 2-year old might, say, yell, “Ooooh! Truuuuck!!!” at the top of his lungs while looking at a book in those spaces. Hypothetically speaking, of course. He also wanders through the (fairly small) space while I do things like drop our books back in, to no one’s horror.

    The library I use is actually located within and also serves as an elementary and middle school library (it isn’t open to the public during school hours), and I volunteer at the school, so I can vouch for the fact that the librarians are actually quite accustomed to working with kids whose parents aren’t present (and whose teachers aren’t necessarily, either — at least by 5th grade, a kid can go to the library by him or herself while working on a project during class).

    I suppose it might be preferable to have a policy that says, “Users of any age who are unruly will be ejected, or their parents or guardians contacted if they are minors,” I can’t get too riled about this, at least not as I’ve seen it in practice (not) at the library within this system that I use.

  33. Unfortunately the 12-and-under policy is common among public libraries.

  34. I spent hours working at local libraries for several summers while taking online college courses (no internet at home…). I saw VERY few kids coming in to look at the books. These were relatively small towns and the kids are generally pretty free-rangey, so they were not being left there as a daycare or anything like that – they were coming in for the express purpose of playing games on the internet. I saw this all summer at 3 different libraries. Mostly, it made me a little sad….but when they were being loud and disruptive, then I was annoyed and would have welcomed some age rule…12 would have worked fine!!

  35. I worked at a public library a few years ago, and can completely sympathize with this policy.
    Libraries are a heaven for all kinds, from inquisitive kids, rowdy teens, homeless, the mentally unstable, working class parents, pedophiles, teachers, scholars and everything in between. Its an all too frequent occurrence for pedophiles and such to be caught in libraries violating parole in some manner.
    Also, from a legal standpoint, this type of policy is in the libraries best interest. IF a child is molested/kidnpped/checks out material the parent finds unsuitable/looks at an internet page the parent finds unsuitable etc., the library can’t be held accountable with this type of policy.

  36. I am a parent and a librarian, and I have mixed feelings on this one. This sort of policy is common, although the cut-off age is often much younger than 12 – my city’s library requires kids under 9 to be accompanied. Kids are often left at public libraries for long periods of time, and some of them get scared and anxious.

    Believe me, librarians are already employing many of the techniques suggested here – calling parents, calling the police, kicking out older kids who misbehave. Atlhough, unfortunately, nowadays, many suburban libraries are built as physical islands where no one can safely walk, so kicking kids out can mean that they just hang out in the parking lot until their ride arrives. Many librarians are also providing great opportunities for kids “abandoned” in the library – Dance, Dance Revolution contests; crafts; book groups; manga and anime clubs; movies. But there are always kids who still misbehave or don’t want to be there, and dealing with them takes time away from a librarian’s primary duties. Libraries have never been overstaffed, and in this economic climate we need staff time to be used to its full potential more than ever. A blanket policy to on unattended kids may be an easy way to do this rather than having to deal with accusations of favoring one family (who use the library appropriately) over another.

    Now that we have very few public spaces, the library is one of the few places where everyone is welcome. This is the great democratizing influence of the library, but in large, urban libraries there definitely are a much higher number of questionable characters hanging around than in other places. (Smaller branches where the desk staff can see the entire floor are not so much of a danger. The same type of characters show up, but it’s easier to nip problems in the bud.) Much of the public think of libraries as safe havens and refuges, and may not realize there is this issue in public libraries. A few cities are starting to assign social workers to libraries to meet these people’s needs without involving the police, but, unfortunately, this is still very rare. Besides not being day care workers, we librarians definitely are not trained as social workers, although most public librarians are committed to serving everyone and are well-versed in the social services available in their communities.

  37. I used to ride my bike to the library when I was 8, and I was an unholy terror. The phrase “To ensure a safe and enjoyable library visit for all” includes the word “enjoyable.” They say that parents are “responsible for the child’s safety and behavior.” They are addressing the issue of misbehaving kids, as well as the issue of kids injuring themselves. I don’t think it’s fair to say the library is using safety as a copout, because they clearly stated that buggy kids are part of their motivation. I think we should all keep in mind that some kids who aren’t taught how to behave alone in public do dumb things and hurt themselves. Which IS a safety issue.

  38. I am a children’s librarian and my small community library is FULL of kids at all times during non-school hours. We do have an unattended children policy at our library to help us when we are being used as a babysitter and basically if kids are behaving and following our behavior policy, for the most part we leave them alone (unless they are really young). People often think of libraries as “safe” places to leave their kids but the truth is, the library staff are busy doing their job which is not babysitting. Anytime, it becomes babysitting, we call the unattended child policy into play. We also make it clear to parents that their children are basically unsupervised while at the library i.e. the staff is not monitoring their computer use, who they talk to, where they go or what they check out. That is the parent/caregiver’s job.

    That being said, to say that children under the age of 12 cannot come into the library is idiotic. I have kids (of all backgrounds) under the age of 12 that walk over to the library, use the computer, do their homework, check out materials and then go home with no incident. In fact, I have always thought it so cool that our library is in the type of community that has this attitude. Well, cool when the kids are not throwing things or screaming in the library or getting in fights (which incidentally, is usually done by kids over the age 12). If kids couldn’t come to the library without an adult before age 12, they’d never come to the library at all. I lived in the library from the time I could ride my bike there which was when I was about 8.

  39. Kudos to librarymama for explaining the nuanced position which allows for proper library use by anyone responsible enough to do so. Outright bans on unattended <12-yos are another example of the reduction of our society to serve only the lowest common denominator, which is something I despise.

  40. I don’t think the problem here is so much with the library instituting this policy, it’s the fact that (as it was mentioned) there are so many parents out there that do not teach their children proper etiquette when being out in public.

    People let their kids behave like monsters with barely a slap on the wrist – so when these same kids are out of mom and dad’s sight, it’s a no brainer that they’re going to act out – if the ultimate authority figure in mom and dad can’t stop them from being brats, what is a librarian going to do?

    As a kid, I was at the library ALL THE TIME. I loved books before I could even read myself (which was at 4). I feel terrible for the librarians because I’m positive it’s not them wanting kids to be more illiterate, but it’s that parents are not taking control of their children and setting appropriate examples.

    If I ever would have acted out at a library and they’d have called my father… it would have been all she wrote. My butt in a sling… so I behaved everywhere I went and made adult friends in doing so. The librarians knew me and liked me and when I was done… I ***walked*** home.

  41. As a gifted child, I was reading C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys (side note: ND & HB had the same author, female, who wrote HB under a male name because parents wouldn’t buy a “boy book” written by a female. But I digress.) etc by the time I was 7. Not only did I go to the library by myself, I often was so absorbed in a book that I would be startled when interrupted. (Nobody insisted I stay in the “children’s section either!) The library was my magic place.

    My brother, also gifted but misbehaved, would spend his time in the library trying to dismantle equipment, randomly recataloging the reference cards, carving on the tables… he was NOT allowed in unsupervised!

    Common sense seems to be leaking from our atmosphere, cause it is in WAY short supply.

  42. I will admit.. I never was taught proper Library manners… The first time I stepped into a public library, I was 8, I was with my grandma for a summer, having just moved alone, from Germany to the states while waiting for my parents to finish the last few months in Germany and settle at their new base. My grandma, showing me around while driving pointed out the library, and it intrigued me, where I lived in Germany was still a prominent book banning going on, so public libraries were unheard of, and base library was only available to active duty members. My father didn’t read, so I never went to the library..

    One day, my grandma dug out my mom’s old bike, handed me a hand written letter, giving the library approval to put me on her library membership. And sent me on my way. I spent just about every day of the summer in that library, and every summer that I visited my grandma after moving back in with my parents.

    I found out later, I was the only child allowed to be there by myself. They also had an age policy, but the owner was just as intrigued in me as I was in the mere idea of a public library. I ended up no longer visiting my grandma on summers when my parents divorced, so I hadn’t been back to that library where I spent many summers.

    It saddened me when I learned about the age policy, I just thought I was the only kid in the neighborhood that liked to read, and would have loved to have made friends… But because of the policy, I thought I was alone in the love of a library…

  43. As a children’s librarian (now staying at home with my three readers-to-be), this policy doesn’t really offend my free-range sensibilities. As TressaRay pointed out, the policy does specifically point out that “behavior” is the issue, and it doesn’t beat the “safety” thing over the head. As a librarian, I did see lots of issues of “safety”, and it wasn’t that people worried about kids being abducted– they were literally climbing the shelves. As dangerous as it is to have a policy that goes overboard because everyone knows it will be winked at, I am sure this library doesn’t kick out the 10-year old engrossed in her Nancy Drew. As another commentator mentioned, libraries are having their staff cut drastically (I was part of a major layoff in 2003), and babysitting is a huge waste of resources.

  44. I’d never even thought to check our library’s policy before this. (sorry, no idea how to link / italicize)

    “MONTGOMERY COUNTY LIBRARY POLICY ON UNATTENDED CHILDREN

    Children in the Library are the responsibility of their parents at all times. The Library has neither the staff nor the legal authority to supervise children in the Library.

    Therefore, parents and guardians should be aware of their responsibility to discipline and supervise their children while they are in the Library. A child left unattended in the Library may become disruptive or frightened; ill or injured. An unattended child could also be kidnapped or molested. Therefore, if a child is found to be unattended in the Library (that is, if the responsible adult is not on the Library premises) at closing time or becomes disruptive in the Library at any time, the Library may ask the Police to take the child into custody for the child’s protection. This policy applies to any child twelve years of age and younger. Older minors who become disruptive will be asked to leave the Library premises and failure to comply may result in the police being called.”

    Now, I’m okay with their reasoning (sad though it is for my well-behaved, voracious reader who happens to be 9)…until! *skids to a stop* Yep, of course, there it is! “An unattended child could also be kidnapped or molested.” And that DOES beat the safety! at! all! costs! thing over the head, considering there have been zero child abductions in our area in pretty much ever, and stranger molestation is highly unlikely and *could* happen absolutely anywhere a pervert has a child and 10 seconds alone.

  45. Amazing! If our children were raised to be respectful and behave appropriately, this might not be an issue. Every librarian I can remember from childhood libraries was secretly called ‘dragon lady’ behind her back, and not meanly! We all knew that she could take us down with a look or a soft, stern “hush!” and would not dare to buck her authority (it was a small town and our parents would have backed her up 100% if we had dared…which we would not have).

    This needs to be an important reminder to free-range parents. Free-range kids should be respectful of rightful authority, aware of their surroundings, and equipped to behave accordingly. This would be a non-issue if there weren’t children being dropped off who needed to be babysat.

  46. I sent this policy to Lenore, and I really appreciate reading all the comments about it. I have several issues with this policy. Like a lot of you, I spent a lot of time alone in the library as a child, which I think engendered my lifelong respect for and support of libraries. I even volunteered at my local library as a teen. I also think this policy is aimed at controlling misbehaving children and to keep the library from being used as free daycare, but the policy is called “Child Safety Policy.” The policy should be labeled accurately so the community can respond appropriately, and perhaps a better policy can be devised.

    I also think the age limit is way too high — 12? A policy preventing unaccompanied children under 7 or 8 makes a lot more sense, but at a certain age a child should be able to take responsibility for themselves. If the child is misbehaving, kick them out or address it with the parents; don’t pass a policy that punishes all children arbitrarily. I think requiring parents to accompany 12 year olds even in the children’s section is way extreme. The whole policy just seems to portray the library as unwelcoming of children, who are part of the community and should be able to use this community resource.

    Anyway, it’s great to read the comments and get all the perspectives on this issue. Thanks!

  47. Children should be aloud in libraries. Part of the job of a librarian is to keep order in the library. I child who acts up should be asked to leave. Those that don’t act up, what’s the problem. Must life always be made convient for adults. Not a problem here. Act up and you can’t stay. They are not being made the caretakers of unattended children. Adults who can behave in a library are asked to leave as well.

  48. 1. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/200907/trustful-parenting-its-downfall-and-potential-renaissance

    2. (side note: ND & HB had the same author, female, who wrote HB under a male name because parents wouldn’t buy a “boy book” written by a female. But I digress.)

    Actually, know. The purported “authors” for both series were as fictional as the characters themselves. The series were written by several different ghostwriters.

  49. As another librarian (and a parent) I might leap in with a few other thoughts (while trying not to repeat what has already been said).

    Sure, librarians could have permission forms so parents could sign for younger children (and leave contact details) because I knew by sight every child in the town of 30,000 people where I was the children’s librarian (and I was of course always there). OK, perhaps I may have overdone the sarcasm.

    Even as a children’s librarian that is not what I want to spend my time administering and I’m sure that the other staff wouldn’t want to do it on my days off.

    Oh and the library service I worked for before that serviced a population of 170,00 (with 5 libraries). Now, these are not large municipalities, but they both had more than a couple of kids. So other than the few regulars who I got to know by name the rest were a sea of faces coming in and out.

    Now, I do find 12 to be a bit of a high age (one library I was at set the age at 5) but…
    Where do we sent a misbehaving 11 year old whose parents have told them “we will pick you up at the library”? We can’t kick them out (we have a duty of care, or at least in Australian law we do). We don’t have the staffing levels to entertain bored kids (and I don’t believe that many public libraries around the world do).

    It is a very awkward situation that many library managers find themselves in because a library full of rowdy kids will lead to complaints from more staid patrons (who probably already feel they are losing the libraries of their youth as we fill the places with computers and art workshops and once I had a visiting percussion group – you better believe that caused complaints. But the kids loved it.)

    But I have on more occasions that I would care to remember found a scared kid whose parents weren’t there at closing time. And rather than sending them out on the street (or calling the police, or community services) I end up waiting around, telling them it is fine mum will be here soon.

    Sure, as so many kids have mobile phones now (and so many parents) it is getting easier to contact parents. But lets face it, this is not really a core part of the job of librarian.

    Now so many of us agree that 12 is too old for a limit, but what is the right age?
    Set it at 12 and you save a certain amount of grief because you then only approach the kids who look 9 or younger (or who are obviously being disruptive).

    Sure it has nothing to do with abduction or safety, but in most libraries I am familiar with this hasn’t been the claim made. It is pure simple pragmatism. Libraries can’t be all things to all people and part of making them the best they can be for as many people as possible is limiting their use as babysitting services and drop in centres. But it isn’t just the kids, we also find that libraries are a great haunt for the homeless and the mentally ill and many libraries find that they have to introduce seemingly draconian rules to prevent people bathing in the toilets, the unwashed sitting in the fabric chairs (how much of a library budget should be spent on steam cleaning furniture)

    I could go on (but I will instead climb off my high horse and say that these days,working in an academic library I miss the kids.)

  50. Wow. I guess that NC library is above the law because here is what NC state law says about children being (at least home) alone:

    What is the legal age when a child may be left home alone? Although there is no age specified in juvenile code that addresses the age a child may be left home alone, North Carolina fire code (G.S. § 14-318) states that a child under the age of eight shall not be left alone without appropriate supervision due to the risk of danger by fire.

    I work for a public library (in MD) and our library policy is that children 8 years and up are perfectly fine to be in the library AND come to the library alone. Bottom line, it is a parenting decision. Here is our posted library policy:

    Supervise children. Young children should remain with you at all times. In accordance with Maryland Family Law Article 5-801, no person charged with the responsibility of a child under the age of 8 may leave that child unattended; a babysitter must be at least 13 years of age

  51. My city is going through changes. Just ten years ago we were a farm town. Now we are track homes as far as the eyes can see. With this change brought diversity. We have had many accusations plus a law suit that our police are picking on the minorities. If our public library only kicked out the trouble makers they would probably be sued for discrimination. We are all walking around on egg shells.

  52. I also wanted to add that I have noticed that overprotectiveness and overpermissiveness seem to go hand in hand. They are both related to not allowing children to have age-appropriate responsibilities.

    Just to provide a little context: We are a very small, safe town. The library is downtown, within walking distance of businesses and homes. Kicking a misbehaving 12yo out would not endanger the child. It is very similar to the town where I grew up, and that’s exactly what the librarian would do.

  53. If the library doesn’t want to become ‘free day-care’ (day-care? for 11-year olds?) then they should’ve put out a rule of no children beneath the age of 7 unattended by an adult. From age 8, a child is old enough to go to the library by him/herself, old enough to read and old enough to know how to behave in public spaces. From that age children also go to school for a significant chunk of time, so no fears of being ‘day-care’. Eight yo’s and older don’t need day-care, and even if they *were* dumped in a library by their parents to give the parents some time without children to do the shopping or whatever, what is wrong with that?!
    A children’s library is *supposed* to cater for children who want to spend a few hours amongst books, picking out books and reading stories.

  54. I believe the policy is not to stop kids who really enjoy the library but to protect the library from possible lawsuits from the same parents that would have used the library as a day-care. Unfortunately the kids that are well behaved and love the library are being punished for those kids that don’t know how to act in a library. So instead of being angry at the library for their policy, instead lets be concerned with parents that are not teaching their kids how to behave in certain places. Also I’m sure this library is not the only library with this type of policy.

  55. Geez, I’m sure all those books will get the kids riled up and out of control….
    I didn’t have a local library growing up, but our house was filled with books, (luckily).
    I’d get upset if I couldn’t find a quiet place to read in the house, and walk up the street to the edge of the woods to sit for hours with a book. Any kid who’s encouraged to grow his or her mind with reading will benefit from a quiet place filled with books. I guess TV is the ultimate babysitter for our kids, eh?

  56. 1. I meant no, not know – duh.
    2. Two more links:

    http://discovermagazine.com/2007/jul/raw-data-is-dirt-the-new-prozac

    http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/eid/vol9no8/03-0033.htm

    Haven’t read them yet, though.

  57. This post compelled me to look up the policy for my local library.

    “Parents are responsible for the behavior of their children while they are on library property. Children under the age of 10 must be attended by a parent or other responsible caregiver age 14 or older in the same service area at all times while on library property.”

    Note there is not one mention of safety and a focus on behavior.
    Sadly … in the past I have been horrified by the behavior of some of the *supervised* children in the library. Children climbing bookshelves and pulling handfuls of books onto the floor right in front of the parents who seem helpless to address the issue. Siblings getting into brawls that go unnoticed or unaddressed by the parents. Babies happily gumming library books to mush while Mom hyperfocuses on the computer.

    No wonder the librarians look at my family in deep concern when all my younger ones troop in ahead of me. It’s nice to see them relax after observing our family for a short while. Thankfully my kids are well behaved in the library. We work hard on that because well behaved children are ones who can have a lot of fabulous experiences unavailable to undisciplined out of control kids.

    What is striking to me is that so many parents are really overwhelmed by their children and do not know what to do when they misbehave (a different issue from the parents who simply don’t care). This is epidemic. I used to be one of those clueless parents. Thankfully I learned a lot along the way (mostly about trusting my own instincts) and now reap the rewards of intelligent, fun, independent, mostly well behaved children (well they are still children! lol).

    Back to the topic at hand … I have felt a lot of sympathy for the librarians when these clueless parents arrive with out of control children in tow. What a delicate situation to maneuver! And unfortunately, a safety clause stating children cannot be left unattended does nothing to rectify this situation.

  58. Gotta watch those libraries. They are absolutely chock full of dangerous information.

    Like, “The Origin of Species,” “The Moral Animal,” and “The God Delusion.”

    Can’t have those things around unsupervised kids, now can we?

    Besides, the kids might just pick up a dangerous habit–READING.

    DId you know that books are the gateway drug in America? Leads to dangerous FREE THINKING.

  59. I’m back, just to add … the more I think about this policy, the less outrageous I find it. I’m sorry, I just cannot get riled about this one. Should (well-behaved) unsupervised children 12 and under be allowed in a library? Probably. Children 10 & under? Maybe. Eight and under? Less likely. In short, do I agree with this policy? No, I don’t think I do. But am I outraged by it? No, I’m just not.

    The story about the police being called in the Bozeman mall was outrageous to me (even with younger children present), because although there was a problem (small children left unsupervised), the way it was dealt with (preventing the older children present from calling their parents, failing to call the parents, and calling the police instead) was, well, an outrage. I’d feel the same if a librarian in this setting called the cops rather than a parent. But just the existence of the policy, which as (many) other commenters have pointed out, may be as much to allow the librarians to focus on their work as anything else just strikes me as … well, basically reasonable (not that the policy itself is perfect, but nonetheless).

  60. I am always interested in the way in which we generally view the world through the very narrow lens of our own experiences. I think that the comments on this website are at their best when people are sharing their unique experiences and perspectives and gaining new perspectives by reading and thinking about what it is like in other areas. At its worst, I see people questioning the validity of other’s comments and stubbornly clinging to their own views and opinions.

    Maybe we could all benefit from more sharing and less judging?

  61. @sara: I don’t like to see the argumentative comments really either, unless they’re constructive in nature… I totally agree with you… but honestly most of the comments here are exceptional that way. I think it’s possible, and even fair to question the validity of comments as long as it’s done in a spirit of understanding, and I think Lenore probably feels the same way, considering the fact that she doesn’t seem to censor points of view.

    @alexicographer: No doubt some sort of policy is needed at libraries… but isn’t it a problem to limit all children by the same blanket rule, especially when that rule is designed for only the worst possible children / circumstances? The library should welcome children of any age, and if that child can’t behave the parents should _anticipate_ the library calling them. And if the parents can’t be reached, I don’t think calling the police is too completely out of the question. I don’t really have a problem with the proposed actions, only the blanket “ban” on unaccompanied kids.

    In the eyes of the law, and in the eyes of this policy writer, is there some magical difference between a 13 year old an an 11 year old that makes one immune to disorderly conduct and kidnapping? Because that’s what they’re implying. At my city’s big metropolitan library I find the little kids are much less of a disturbance than the older teenagers. The little kids tend to hang out in their own area, while the older kids find ways of stirring up MUCH more trouble.

    Library policies should govern behavior, not age.

  62. @Randy, sure, conceptually, though we (whoever that is) do accept age cutoffs in general, so I don’t see why libraries should be different (younger than 16 is “too young” to drive a car, younger than 14 in NC is “too young” to work in many jobs, per Michele, younger than eight is “too young” to be left home alone). Again — do I think this is a perfect, wonderful policy? No, I don’t. Do I think it’s an “outrage?” No, I don’t. I’d like to save my outrage for … outrages.

  63. I posted this in another thread. I picked up a flyier at my library “We want your kids to be safe” it asked parents to

    1. Not leave kids at library before it opens

    2.Kids need to have been school age last year to come on their own.

    3. Kids need to know how to contact parents or other adults in emergency

    4. Librarians are not responsible for monitoring what children do on computers or check out.

    5. Parents need to be aware of the weather and make suitable arrangements for kids to get home, (Afternoon thunder showers with dangerous lightening and possible street flooding are not unusual and have happened several afternoons the last couple of weeks. Also there is pretty much no effective public transportation in Houston)

    6. (Missed this one last time) Children need to eat lunch. The library can not provide food.

    7. Children under 12 left without transportation on library property after hours will be turned over to the police. (I think this might be law. We have a similar policy for children left at school, if we don’t have an emergency communication from their parents or if the emergencies are to regular – like every Thursday a kid is left till 4 when they get out at 2:30)

    The library is full of kids. Quiet, respectful, polite kids. They have about 50 kids from Entering 4th grade – entering 12th grade who are volunteering. So a good number of those kids are pushing around carts and shelving books. Helping prepare supplies for craft projects, and other volunteer jobs.

  64. @Uly I did not realise that – thanks! I guess I wasn’t too far off the mark then, sending them a Hardy Boys “book” (all of 9 dizzyingly awful chapters, typed on a manual typewriter) that I’d written, in the hopes of publication.

  65. Ours says this:

    “Parental Responsibility
    The King County Library System supports parents and guardians in their efforts to guide their own children’s reading, viewing, and listening. The Library System provides access to reviews of books, videocassettes, and other materials. KCLS also publishes recommended reading and viewing lists and links to recommended web sites via the KCLS Home Page.

    The mission of the library is to provide free, open and equal access to ideas and information to all members of the community.

    Children may borrow or use any materials, resources, or services in the King County Library System. It is the responsibility of parents and guardians to monitor their child’s use of library resources and to determine whether to place restrictions on their own children.

    While children may have their own cards, parents of minors (under age 18) are responsible for the materials their children check out.

    Parents and guardians are responsible for their child’s behavior, safety, and welfare while in the library. Library employees are unable to assume this responsibility. Because the library is a public place, it may not be wise for children to be left unattended. Library employees are unable to assume responsibility for unattended children. Parents leaving a child unattended must first determine that the child is capable of proper library behavior and of observing parental expectations for use of library materials. Parents must assure that the child is picked up before closing time.”

    Good thing since my kids ride their bikes to the library almost every day.

  66. I had to look for mine – I finally used the search engine on the site to find the policy:

    UNSUPERVISED AND UNATTENDED CHILDREN

    This policy is intended to be a guideline to staff and to establish enforceable boundaries regarding the behavior of children in a public place. However, it is necessary to exercise professional judgment, as each situation is different. Enforcement based on age alone, for example, or on the measurable distance of the parent from the child in the building, is not a good use of the policy. The circumstances of each family’s actions while using the public library should be taken into account. Examples follow the policy to provide guidance in this area.

    The staff of the Hillsboro Public Library occasionally experience behavioral problems with children who are not adequately supervised or are left unattended in the libraries. The following policy shall apply:

    *
    Persons using the library are required to produce identification upon request by library staff.
    *
    Children under the age of 11 shall, at all times, be attended and adequately supervised by a parent, another adult, or a responsible adolescent while using the libraries to find materials or to study. When children are not adequately supervised or are engaging in behavior which is disturbing others or the operation of the library, the library staff will attempt to locate the person in charge of the children and discuss the problem. Should behavior which violates the library’s Policy on Behavior continue on that or later occasions, staff have the authority to ask the children and the person in charge of the children to leave the premises. If the person in charge of the children under the age of 11 cannot be located, the children will be referred to the Hillsboro Police Department for their own safety.
    *
    Children aged 11 to 18 are responsible for their own behavior. When they are engaging in behavior which is disturbing others or the operation of the libraries, the problem may be discussed with them at the time. Should the behavior continue on that or later occasions, staff have the authority to ask them to leave the premises.
    *
    During library programs, persons responsible for the activity and behavior of children aged five and younger should remain in the activity area with the children unless crowding requires that adults be asked to leave the room. Persons responsible for the activity and behavior of children aged 6 through 10 may leave the activity area during library-sponsored programs but should remain within the library. If responsible parties find it necessary to leave the library, the children should be provided with a note concerning how they may be reached in case of an emergency, and the responsible parties are required to return by the time the program is scheduled to be over or the Police may be contacted for the safety of the children.
    _________-

    I think that 11 may be too old, but other than that – I think it’s all pretty reasonable. They are figuring that 11 and older are plenty old enough to have to leave the library and manage on their own without an adult, and they are leaving because of behavior within the library. In my mind, it falls under the idea of, “you do the action, you own it.”

    However, I bet my 9yo could be in there on her own and no one would blink an eye because she wouldn’t be running around or causing problems. If she needed help and the staff should ask her where an older person is, then maybe they’d be concerned – maybe in this case a note would be in order. “My daughter is here alone with my knowledge and permission as she is quiet and respectful and responsible. If she is displaying behavior in opposite to this, please call me at ########## and I will immediately come and pick her up and consequently deal with her misbehavior.”

  67. I had an attempted abduction/assault of an unsupervised child a few months ago. I’ve had ten year old children in tears because their parents said they’d pick them up but forgot to check library opening hours and aren’t answering their phones. I’ve had children who have few verbal skills left caring for their younger siblings and again, parents not knowing when the library shuts. Which means at least two staff members staying behind to care for increasingly upset children, calling the police, calling parents and occasionally being abused by parents because their children are ‘fine’.

    Librarians have jobs – that’s what we are doing. Looking after children isn’t the bulk of that job. At any point I need to catalogue, answer reference queries, assist in searching for items, shelve, assist at the computers, cover for other staff, check out items and check in items. I cannot ensure your child is behaving, is not being stalked by problematic patrons or even staying in the library. I cannot know every child on sight. Librarians are not responsible for your children and the library is a public space, not a safe space. We do what we can, but we are not miracle workers.

  68. I don’t think this is excessive at all. The comments about all the kids coming to enjoy books is off the mark because many kids are going to enjoy the computers, and some get rowdy while waiting. They are NOT reading anything but a computer screen. I’m sure the librarians have this primarily as a rule to point to, rather than something that they use to the letter. OUr librarians know our kids and I could probably drop them off, and they’d be fine. But I wouldn’t do it without having a way for my kids to contact me.

    There are places that attract negligent (and often belligerent) parents, bookstores and libraries being two of the most common. I’m sure the librarians have been at least threatened with lawsuit from parents who have left 10 year old kids there, that weren’t properly supervised by a LIBRARIAN. Not outrageous at all. I don’t blame them.

  69. It’s not the kids that are the problem, commenters. It’s the fact that libraries are free, cheap, and warm, and known to be a good place to find children. They are the refuge of the homeless and teh lost, which is perfectly fair, but they are also a target of pedophiles, and a good place to find addicts and escapees with nowhere else to go.

    Do you really want your twelve-year-old unsupervised there?

    I appreciate that in 1970 and when you were 10 it was perfectly OK to spend days in your local library. Unfortunately the world has changed, and the library staff are not responsible for keeping your child safe in what is NOT A SAFE ENVIRONMENT. Would you leave your child alone in the middle of a mall or a store? The library often attracts even more undesirables than these places, because nobody will try to move them along.

    Please think about what you are saying and please try to have some responsibility for your parenting. This is not the world you grew up in and it is not a world where it is okay to leave 12-year-olds and younger unsupervised – ANYWHERE.

  70. Interesting discussion. Librarians do a pretty good job with all sorts of kids and I am constantly amazed what some parents expect others to do. It’s not just the librarians that have to look after kids who are left unattended at the library to their own devices. I have had a small child , maybe 3 yo , who jumped on top of me (yep jumped) when I sat down with caesarian newborn baby and my twin 2yos to read some stories in the kid’s section of the library. Kid didn’t want to sit down and kept hassling /poking me and the kids/baby, interrupting the story etc. Was not fun I asked it to find its mother and turned out she’d left her alone for a couple of hours. Eventually I had to tell the kid to just leave us alone like it was some sort of naughty dog (Go away! Shoo! etc It was horrible). I totally resented having to deal with someone else’s problem when I had a handful of my own stuff to deal with. Why should I, the librarian, or anyone else have to look after other’s kids at my/others expense? This is when the police should be called in I think. This was a 3 yo not a 9 yo.
    Some people need to have these policies because otherwise these parents would just exploit other’s goodwill. Sadly the list of posted by KHerbert was developed because parents had done exactly those sorts of things. no lunch.

  71. Some very interesting points raised here, which has got me thinking!

  72. There is a halfway house for convicted sex offenders not too far from the nearest library branch. I would no more let my (very well behaved) 10 year old spend the day there alone than I would feed him to the wolves. Is it really that hard to take your kid to the library once or twice a month and stay long enough for them to get their books?

  73. I’m sorry. I just can’t get behind the outrage. Libraries are not day cares.
    And, like someone else said, the rule would probably only be enforced if the child was way too young or being unruly.

  74. @ Mary: I think maybe we should ALL generalize a bit less on the the clientele and atmosphere at libraries. They are all different.

    Our library downtown (Houston) is massive and, yes, a haven for the homeless and I would not be surprised to find a perv on the odd occasion – then again, a perv on the odd occasion could be found absolutely anywhere. Statistically more likely to be found within the child’s own home.

    Our local library (very suburban to Houston) is a haven for older folks and stay-at-home parents. About the scariest think you’ll come across are knitting needles.

    I wouldn’t have a problem leaving my child at either one, whether I was on site or not.

    The homeless are people down on their luck for so many reasons nowadays, and we speak to them politely as we’d speak to anyone else. We refuse to “not see them”. As in any situation anywhere else, if a person seems off or threatening in any way, she/we do not approach, and will find help if they approach. At our local library, the problem is always that there are too many people trying to “help a sweet little girl like you” so they don’t realize they are just kinda getting in her way! 🙂

    Goes to what Lenore has been saying all along: Get out in YOUR neighborhood, YOUR library, YOUR mall, YOUR biking trails and see for yourself how safe or unsafe you feel it really is.

    You state: “This is not the world you grew up in and it is not a world where it is okay to leave 12-year-olds and younger unsupervised – ANYWHERE”

    This is really the wrong (or maybe very, very RIGHT) website for you, then. We believe that the world is safer than you think, and statistically it’s true. Researching the safety stats for your OWN neighborhood is the best way to find out whether you’ve really been protecting your children from the horrible things that really do lurk past your doorstep, or if you’ve been protecting them from what the t.v. tells you is Out There…which is likely nothing at all. I came into this idea with your exact same mindset. After modest research, a few calls, and several walking journeys through our neighborhood, I’m firmly on the other side of the fear.

  75. Wow. Just wow.

    I was working, WORKING, in our town’s library by the time I was 11 years old. The librarian knew me very well and asked my parents if I would like to work Saturday mornings there and they said yes. It was a great experience for me, helping people find books, checking books out for them, and stacking returned books.

    I spent so much time at the library as a kid, some of my happiest childhood memories are there.

  76. Also, I take offense at Qweerdo’s comment. The assumption is that all children are hellions and need to be babysat. I intend on making sure my kids are respectful, polite and perfectly capable of behaving in a library setting. Good grief.

  77. @Randy:

    Chiming in here regarding the magical difference between 11 and 13.

    At least in my state (Tennessee), a person twelve or under is defined as a child in addition to being a minor. This is primarily for purposes of prosecuting crimes, as rape of a child is treated as a more aggravated crime than rape of a minor. Most states have something similar.

    While the prosecution angle isn’t really here – libraries, like everyplace else with liability concerns, have insurance. And insurance companies tend to use the operative legal definitions, meaning they may consider unattended 11-year-olds to be more of a liability risk than unattended 16-year-olds. Makes sense to me.

  78. @cagey: what is there to take offense at? I think we’re saying the same thing. There are plenty of children who would behave just fine if left alone at the library. I believe the rule may have been put in place for the more extreme cases.
    But, by all means, you are perfectly within your rights to be offended by something I didn’t even say.

  79. Is it really that hard to take your kid to the library once or twice a month and stay long enough for them to get their books?

    Once or twice a month is often enough????

    Seriously, though, you’re in a special circumstance. The rest of us aren’t in that same situation, and your experience doesn’t apply.

    I posted this in another thread. I picked up a flyier at my library “We want your kids to be safe

    Your library sounds like a bastion of sense and sensibility.

    They are NOT reading anything but a computer screen.

    People keep saying this like there’s something WRONG with it.

    they are also a target of pedophiles, and a good place to find addicts and escapees with nowhere else to go.

    Can somebody please find, somewhere – anywhere! – statistics that handle how many children are molested in libraries. (Not that any molestation by a stranger happens all that often, but if libraries are the bulk of them I’ll go with that.)

    I appreciate that in 1970 and when you were 10 it was perfectly OK to spend days in your local library. Unfortunately the world has changed

    Changed for the BETTER. The world is SAFER now than it was in 1970! Heck, just in this past year the crime rate has dropped substantially and nobody can figure out why! Every fact, every statistic, every measuring tool ever says that there is LESS crime now than then, LESS violent crime than then, LESS crime against children than then, that children are overwhelmingly living in the safest era ever.

    Would you leave your child alone in the middle of a mall or a store?

    At twelve? Yes, yes I would.

    Please think about what you are saying and please try to have some responsibility for your parenting. This is not the world you grew up in

    I do think about what I’m saying, every day. What’s more, I research what I’m saying and make sure that my feelings and opinions match the actual facts of the situation. I do not let myself be ruled by my fears, but learn more about them so I can find out if my fears are reasonable or not. Your fears, fortunately, are not reasonable – and you can look that up.

  80. Changed for the BETTER. The world is SAFER now than it was in 1970! Heck, just in this past year the crime rate has dropped substantially and nobody can figure out why!

    There has been one theory postulated about the reduction in crime: http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2005/05/15/abortion-and-crime-who-should-you-believe/

  81. Laura, that article is four years old. I don’t think it can explain the drop in crime rates from January – June of 2009.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/02/weekinreview/02dewan.html

  82. Maybe not perfectly. I admit I missed completely catching the phrase “just this year”, so my apologies in that error. But something must be happening, no?

  83. Uly, great article you linked to. They even address the idea that people’s perception of crime and/or danger is far greater than the statistics bear out.

  84. Someone in our family of five needs to go to the library a minimum of twice a week. “Once or twice a month” wouldn’t do it, and oh yeah, it’s not just for my kids to pick out their books (which we’d have to back a dump truck up to the library if we were going to get a month’s worth). I check out books, movies, and audio books from the library and so does my hisband.

    I also don’t have a problem with my nine year old and twelve year old riding their bikes to the library just to use the computers (which are limited to an hour a day) since we have crappy dial up at home and they literally can’t play any oinline games here.

  85. I agree with you on most of what you post, but I’m going to support the library on this one. I’ll bet that rule isn’t really about safety and is a lot more about librarians being sick and tired of being the town babysitters.

    Kids under 12 without parents tend to behave worse than kids who are there with parents. I’ve seen it in my small town library and I’ve heard horror stories of people using local libraries for their after school care every day. that’s not what the libraries are there for.

    Good for the library taking care of their problem.

  86. I started riding my bike to our town library when I was 6, and across town, about 2 miles, to my piano lessons at the same age.

    Funny that often times the safe children really are the illiterate ones…don’t get me started on the modern “tradition” of electronic babysitters for trophy kids.

  87. I’m with Uly on this one – once or twice a month and what’s wrong with using the computers? We’re there almost every day! My kids do get books out when they go and they have been known to curl up in the chairs and read their book. However, I often send them (9 and 11 yos) to the library alone to do research on the computer for our school projects. One, it gets done faster if they each have their own computer and don’t have to sit around fighting about whose turn it is and two, the kid’s computers at the library have so many filters on them that I know they won’t get on any sites they shouldn’t be on. I don’t have thos safegaurds on our laptop, I don’t know how to do it. It also gives us a little respite from each other as being both mom/teacher and child/student does take its toll. My library does have a policy like this but as many posters have stated – it has never used against my children because they behave. I have seen older teens get kicked out for misbehavior so I think it comes down to common sense. Don’t send your kids until you are sure they can and will behave.

  88. The issue could be one of safety too. Depending on how a child (of any age) alone acts, the child could get hurt or could hurt others.
    And I agree it’s also very likely that the librarians are being paid to work as librarians, not as day care workers. So the powers that be should write up the policy as such.
    Give any and all children (and adults for that matter as well) a one-strike-and-you’re-out rule. Drop the kids off, fine. One mistake and you’re not allowed back in. As for what constitutes a mistake/strike, I’ll leave it up to the librarians to decide that.
    Just my opinion, I could be wrong.

  89. It isn’t ‘likely’ that we’re paid to be librarians, that’s just the way it is. That is what we are trained to do, usually at a Masters level. I’m a children’s librarian and I trained to help them find material, to assist in developing literacy and to help them use the library. Not to provide unpaid for care.

    I don’t think some parents realise what it is like from our point of view. You state that the library is safer than a lot of other spaces. At my library (1 of 5 branches, 172k population but heavily used by other areas of the city) we have at least 3 incidents a day with children. Be it younger children playing in the doors and getting caught, older children looking at porn or shouting at each other across the computers or simply running through the library and not only making it unsafe for other patrons but unsafe for themselves (again, you might never see the serious damage a faceplant into shelving causes, but we have). We have a serious incident once a week or so – actual injury, toddlers getting into the carpark or children being left alone either in the library, in the centre or after the library has shut. We have a very serious incident once a month or so – stalking, assault or abuse. We have banned adults for assaulting children. We haven’t banned a chld yet, but it has come close.

    And my branch? Has less of an issue with kids than most of the other branches. No-one has tried to set our building alight for example, or hit staff. Hell, I don’t even get teens running any illegal gambling games!

    The statistical chance that it is your child who is hurt is small. But the chance of an incident happening in a library is not. So libraries need to work on what happens IN LIBRARIES not on the statistics for your child.

    Not to mention that the child left in the library because she’s responsible isn’t that different to the child left in the library because the parent wants to gamble and she’s learnt to be responsible. We get far more of the latter than the former and that is what we will think when confronted with a 9 year old alone.

  90. My goodness, geek. if I lived by you I think I’d have to move. Kids get assaulted or stalked in your library on a monthly basis? See, that’s where parents common sense kicks in – I wouldn’t leave my children in your library. I take offense to the fact that you think parents that send their children alone must be addicts of some kind forcing their children to grow up before their time. Not to be mean but what a stupid thing to say. I do not have to spend every minute of my life with my children to prove I am not an addict. At least I know that not all librarians are as cynical as you. Thank God for that.

  91. Did you notice how many people we serve? We do what we can to make it safe but when parents insist their kid doesn’t need suprvision we get the fallout – kids hitting each others, being abused by adults or just plain old hurting themselves.
    I don’t assume addict – in some cases I know because I make an effort to connect with parents. In some cases it’s an educated guess. In some cases its something else entirely – pretty rare though. That said, you don’t have anything to prove to me, I’m just explaining what I deal with as a librarian.
    And parents generally have no idea about what actually happens in a library – particularly if they rarely make an appearance themselves. And if the library isn’t keen on sharing those incidents?

  92. Also, can we not accuse me of cynicism? It kinda hurts, given how much abuse librarians cop from people who don’t actually understand how a library works. We try our best but when 9 times out of 10 the children left in the library have been left there because a parent wants to gamble/drink/whatever alone for a bit that is what we come to expect. And we aren’t delighted when we find out different – well, I’m happy for the family but the unsupervised aspect of my dismay still stands.

    When there are 150 people being ‘supervised’ by 5 doing other duties as well, we can’t make sure the local bully isn’t shaking down your kid. Or slimy dude on the wifi isn’t facing his porn towards your kid. We try and it hurts when we fail, but please don’t try tell us we’re too cynical becausewe don’t assume the kid on their own is doing fine and needs no help.

  93. I guess I’m lucky,geek, because I’ve had such wonderful experiences with our library. I do go to the library 2-4 days a week. I know all the staff, a lot of the patrons, and we have the BEST children’s librarians. Our librarians even come to watch my kids play hockey. I guess if we lived in a different community I might feel different. I also get really sensitive when people talk about addictions equaling bad parenting. My parents were what they call functioning alcoholics and I had a great childhood. My parents went to work every day, supported us and loved us and let us be children. The only difference is they went to the bar 2-4 times a week. Obviously, not all addicts are like this and the ideal would be to have no addiction but I wish people would stop generalizing. I love my parents and I truly believe they did a great job raising 7 kids who are now all responsible, hard-working, happy adults.

  94. IN possible defence of the librarians (and I have no idea of the circumstances that lead to this directive), you would be amazed at the number of parents that use libraries as de facto child minding services during school holidays. I was approached by an unaccompanied 4yo at my local library wanting me to read her a story and the librarians told me she was frequently there on her own. Another librarian friend had to call in social services when a regular 3yo unaccompanied library patron started bringing her 18m baby sister along with her to the library. Our local library is also always packed full of elementary school children during school holidays, starting from age 5yo. These children are not usually there for the books but for socialising, playing on the computers etc. I think their parents see it as a cheap alternative to sendign them to the vacation care at the Y around the corner. I think it would be worth you contacting this particular library and see what they say about it, ie, they are probably just saying it is about child safety when really it is because they are sick of minding other people’s kids while they are trying to do their job.

  95. Oh and these same families also drop their children off at the local swimming pool for a day of free, unsupervised child care. I was in the ladies change rooms once when two little girls (probably about 5) came in with a very distressed toddler who had had an accident in her swimsuit. These little girls were trying to clean the younger one up on her own and it was obvious from their conversation that there were no adults (or even older children) at the pool with them this particular day. Apart from anything else, there is huge risk of drownings leaving unaccompanied children at the pool like this. As with the library, the pool is always packed full of kids – and very few parents – during school holidays. A lot of these kids, even the older ones, are not very good swimmers and the ratio of pool attendants (with life saving qualifications) to swimmers is very low.

  96. >>>>we can’t make sure the local bully isn’t shaking down your kid. Or slimy dude on the wifi isn’t facing his porn towards your kid.<<<>>>As with the library, the pool is always packed full of kids – and very few parents – during school holidays.

    That’s a shame. All the pools around here require a parent to be on the premises for younger children and children who cannot pass a swimming test are not allowed out of the shallow end.

  97. Also, I kind of resent when people who live or work in really crappy areas, try to use that as evidence that I shouldn’t let my children out of my sight. I’m just sayin’…

  98. Hey, my work area may be a refugee dumping ground but the library where the kids tried to set the building alight is smack in the middle of the ‘nice’ suburbs. It’s the branch that has the most violence as well – I may get abandoned kids, but the parents don’t threaten me when I call them.

    It isn’t just a class issue, but feel free to assume only ‘bad’ areas have problems – they just don’t call their use of libraries as daycare anything special.

  99. @geek – I don’t live in a nice suburb. All I was saying was that my experience had been different than yours. As I posted, we have had problems at our branch but they were mostly by teens fighting or acting rowdy. I still maintain that sending my kids to the library alone for an hour is not using it as free daycare. I guess we have to agree to disagree. I’m sure there are parents that use it as such but not all of us do.

  100. Sorry, Geek. I kinda jumped the gun on that one. I don’t think your last comment was aimed at me. Sorry! I hate that half of my WordPress e-mails go to Spam. I can’t read them in order.

  101. MaeMae,

    (I’ll address this to you, because you were the last one whose comments were along these lines)

    Sending your kids to the library alone for an hour is not using the place as a daycare. But how does a librarian at the desk of a busy public library identify the fact that your kids are in for a visit as opposed to having been dumped?

    Likewise those who said their kids were well behaved, do the staff on the front desk know this when they see them coming in?

    Now, my kids do go to the local library by themselves (not the library where I work). Today my girls (10 and 13) went there on their walk home from school (while their 8 year old brother went to soccer practice). They hadn’t been dumped and I hope they were well behaved (although with the 10 year old that is not always the case).

    So, what if my library had a 12 year old rule like the one we have been discussing? Then they would have gone later when I got home from work (or on the weekend). It would be annoying, but hardly more than that.

    oh and for LindaLou, it has very little to do with ‘crappy areas’ one library where I worked some years ago was certainly worthy of the tag ‘crappy area’ but despite the unschooled kids in there all day (and the alcoholics sleeping in the corners) it was a perfectly safe place (well, for the kids, not so great for the alcoholics or the library staff who had to deal with them).

    Like Catherine’s story, we had to introduce an age limit when 3 year olds started bringing in their younger brothers and sisters. Now, in that case I argued for a low limit because I figured the kids were safer in the library than out on the streets. But then I am a bleeding heart liberal, if I were being cynical I might question whether child safety is the role of the librarian or the social worker.

    But hey, these underprivileged kids were great. It was the middle class kids whose parents worked in town that caused me the most grief. They didn’t want to be in the library but their parents didn’t trust them to be home alone. If I was to support a ban on unaccompanied kids it would be because of those kids and I can imagine that a lot of libraries get those kids in large numbers.

  102. … What’s wrong with a policy expecting parents to do their jobs and supervise their children? I’d be complaining about the way parents are failing in their jobs to teach their children how to behave in public that cause places to adopt policies like this rather than the places that are just doing what they need to do.

    Besides- what’s wrong with kids under 12 being expected to have a parent with them? At that age it’s still a relatively decent idea for parents to at least know what they’re looking at/reading. MHO.

  103. @Rebekah, “Besides- what’s wrong with kids under 12 being expected to have a parent with them? At that age it’s still a relatively decent idea for parents to at least know what they’re looking at/reading. MHO.”

    My daughter is 7, and I DO know what she’s looking at and reading…. I don’t need to hold her hand every moment to do that. She visits the school library, and I know what she read there because I ASK her. Same goes for the public library… she can’t walk there herself yet (in a couple of years, almost certainally), but I don’t stay in the Children’s section the whole time we’re there. We each do our own thing, I meet her back in the kids’ room, and I ask her what she’s been doing and if she’s found any books she wants to take home. I trust my daughter, and I am confident that she’s not going to lie to me about what she’s reading.

    The time she tried to play hide and seek (I was there, she was young, around 4, and I stopped her), it was with two kids whose parents were right there, and ALLOWING them to do so.

    When my daughter is not with me, I am not looking for “free day care”. The library staff (or parents at a park, or the employees in the ice-cream shop) are not responsible for my kid; SHE is responsible for her own behavior, not anyone else. Why does everyone assume that if we’re not with our kids, we’re expecting another adult to babysit them? When my kid needs a babysitter, I hire one (I don’t think she’s old enough to walk home every day after school and be unattended for the 4 hours until I get home, for example… or to stay home alone while I go to a 3 hour meeting late at night). If she’s somewhere without a babysitter and without me, it’s because she is able to handle the responsibility.

  104. Wow, I get what they are doing, but that age limit is a bit high. When I was 10 I was a youth volunteer at my local library (and continued until I was 15, I loved it!).

    At our local library now, the teenagers are WAY more of a behavior problem than the little kids. But that’s another issue entirely.

    Rebekah, what’s wrong with the policy is that there are some 7-11 year olds who are perfectly capable of behaving themselves in a library, and they are being punished by this sort of rule.

  105. Does anyone remember a story from several years back when some library system in the U.S., somewhere on the east coast I think, tried to ban ADULTS who were not accompanied by CHILDREN from the children’s section of the library? The rationale was that nobody who was not a perv would have any business hanging around the children’s section of the library without their kids. Apparently the notion of picking up some books for my kids while I was running errands was alien to these people. I think there was enough of a ruckus that the policy didn’t stick, but I’m not sure.

    Anyway, on this one, I can really see both sides. My kids, your kids, everybody’s kids here might have a wonderful and appropriate time at the library unsupervised for a reasonable amount of time, but the librarians just can’t be expected to deal with the library being used as a dumping ground for kids who have nowhere else to go and nothing constructive to do there — even if they are nine years old. So it’s a tricky situation.

  106. @Rebekah: I guess our idea of what a parents job is differs. My idea of parenting is not being with my child 24/7 especially at 12 yo. My idea of parenting is teaching them how to behave, how to respect authority and rules, and how to have self-control. This enables them to go out into the world without me right there and I can still trust that they are behaving. They have broken that trust before and realised that once broken it takes a lot to get it back. That was a huge life lesson learned at a time when it wasn’t something really serious that could have major consequences. It’s invaluable that children learn these skills from us as children not when they are out on their own in a world they have never learned to navigate.

  107. […] and responsibility.. they don’t have to be mutually exclusive concepts. I have read on the Free Range Kids blog and on other sites, complaints from parents about rules in public and private establishments that […]

  108. Just a note on filters on the computers in the children’s rooms that an earlier poster mentioned. Every library has a different policy and type of filter, so it’s worth asking your librarians. Secondly, the filters do a good job at filtering out inappropriate material, but, believe me, lots of it still gets through, even on searches done by kids who have no intention of trying to get to banned sites. (I’m speaking as a librarian, not a techno geek, so I can’t answer questions on the details of how the filters work.) So please talk to your kids about what types of things they are allowed to look at and what to do if they get to a site that disturbs or scares them. (Asking the librarian for help is fine if your parent isn’t there.) And, please, please, do not yell at the librarian because the filter didn’t work the way you thought it would!

    Unfortunately, incidents happen in libraries all the time that are NOT in “crappy” neighborhoods. Just as some parents use the library as a day care, the library is also used in lieu of social services in many communities. I would say that every library in our system, which includes urban, wealthy suburban, blue-collar suburban, small town, and tiny rural libraries, have this problem to some extent. This is no slight on social services – they are usually even more overworked and on a shoestring than libraries. But geek’s comments above about the incidents in her library are pretty typical of what occurs in most public libraries. At professional conferences we get lots of training on how to deal with questionable/deviant behavior among our patrons, but we’re not professional therapists or social workers, so it’s mostly keeping a lid on things and balancing patrons’ rights with patron safety.

    This is not to say that your kids should not go alone to the library. My oldest, age 11, does it herself, and one of the libraries she frequents isn’t located in the nicest of neighborhoods. It does mean that before you leave them there, talk to them seriously about what to do if someone makes you nervous, follows you into the bathroom, etc. One of the last chapter’s of Lenore’s book gives great advice on how to prep kids for this kind of thing without scaring them. (And, no, I’m not getting any kickbacks :->)

  109. Apparently the notion of picking up some books for my kids while I was running errands was alien to these people.

    Forget that. Kidlit and YA are the better quality of books!

  110. Our library has an under 9 rule – the signs magically appeared in the children’s room a couple of weeks after the school year ended. Hmm… I wonder why?🙂 Yup, it’s pretty clear to me that it is a child care issue. I do see young kids there without their parents hovering near by (don’t know whether the parents are in another part of the library or not) and if the kids are behaving, no one seems to mind.

  111. Lenore,

    I usually like your posts, but your posts hit me in the chops this time. I am a librarian at one library and my kids go after school to another library and hang out there. I know they are safe. But they are also above the age that our library posts.

    You literally have no idea how many children who are under 9 years old that get left in our library all day long by themselves. They usually have no “free range” skills either, to the point where I had one girl stand right next to me for three hours and talk because she was lonely.

    singlemom is right–if the child is behaving and quiet we won’t bother them. But it is very often that the disruptive child is the one that was left alone. And this happens even when the parent is in the building: our rules say “unsupervised”.

    And dont get me started about the mother who gave her nine year old son permission to download ringtones at the library and didn’t know how to do it thereby charging a lot of money to his cell phone carrier. And his mother wanted a refund from me, the librarian.

  112. MJ I completely empathize with you, I do! Those children shouldn’t be left unattended, because they do not have the capability to manage themselves. But to blanket-statement “NONE under 12” captures my well-behaved children in the poorly-behaved children’s pile of poo.

    There must be a better method than “all or none”. We just need to put our thinking caps on.

  113. I really don’t think there is because EVERYONE assumes their child is fine, it’s all those other little horrors. Or it’s the library’s fault. Or it was just a bad day. Or I just don’t understand children and that’s totally normal behaviour and we should put up with it.

    The speed limit is in place because not everyone is a race driver. Not everyone has the same skill set. 11 is the limit in my city and it seems fair – there are 12 year olds who shouldn’t be left alone anywhere just as there are very capable 9 year olds. But trying to make rules apply differently because you’re so very special is not helpful to the librarians or the library. It’s great that your kids are so self-reliant – I know I was at that point and I would have happily used the library on my own. But because it was a library my mother didn’t send me there alone (mostly because then she’d miss out on library time…). There is a time and a place for things and the place for unaccompanied minors is not the library.

  114. I know this is an old post, but I’m only just now able to comment.

    One thing that is different about libraries from when I spent hours in them as a kid: porn. Most libraries don’t censor the patron’s Internet use in any way. Patrons can and do look at hardcore pornography more frequently than you might imagine. Librarians feel that it’s important to not censor and they say children shouldn’t be unattended in the room as they will very likely see the stuff.

  115. That’s a hilarious comic about this situation pretty much exactly. I have it on my fridge, printed out.

  116. I totally agree with the free range philosophy and raise my own son with a lot of freedom. This library is my local library though, so I can really see both sides of this issue. This very, very small library has for decades been filled with so many rowdy children after school that it’s really fairly unusable for anyone wanting to read or study (we’re talking dozens of kids). I don’t think the librarians would really kick out a kid who was quietly reading, I think they just wanted to have some recourse against the many very loud kids who shout, play, and run through the library all afternoon. I loved being dropped off at the library when I was a kid. I was a total bookworm and the library was a sacred place to me. The kids at this library in the afternoon don’t seem to share that reverence.

  117. You know, I find it laalhubge and yet absolutely sickening that Britney Spears was visited by CPS after she drove her car with Sean Preston in her lap. Remember the heat she took for that?Where’s the public outcry over Anthony Keidis doing this not once, but TWICE?

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