Dear Free-Range Kids: Thought you might be interested in what happened to me today. My husband and I had some appointments and arranged to meet afterwards at the recently renovated Cambridge Public Library. I had brought my laptop and my husband some paperwork, and we planned to do a little work while we were there. I suggested we visit the children’s room: a huge, sunny, room with a ceiling papered to look like a leafy canopy, pillars decorated as tree trunks, and a rug sculpted to look like a stream bed of river stones.
It was 9:00 am and the department was empty except for the librarians. We were the only patrons. We found a corner and settled in until one of the staff came over and informed us that the children’s room was reserved for people “accompanying children.” She was a little apologetic, and explained that it would get busy and loud shortly and there were plenty of other, quieter places for us to work in the library. (True.)
So we settled down in another part of the library and did some work, and when it came time to leave I went in search of the information desk to find the audiobooks for kids. I got directions and asked the woman behind the desk about why we had been shooed from the children’s department. It was explained to me that “they can’t have people hanging out there, looking at little children.” I somehow felt dirty for even having questioned the policy.
This isn’t really about my rights being infringed or really even inconvenienced: I can use the rest of the gorgeous library and am free to use the children’s room, so long as my son chaperones me. But I think this is a chilling development, and I hate what it says about how fearful we have become as a society.
I’m a parent of a 10 year old, a published children’s book author, and I grew up in and around libraries…working as a library page at my hometown library in Falls Church, VA, and at various libraries in college. I love to browse and hang out in the children’s rooms, to watch how kids and their parents interact with books, and to work surrounded by “the canon” of authors who have gone before me. I’m baffled and sad that a library would decide that a huge segment of their patrons are assumed to be dangerous to their youngest patrons. The reasoning seems to be that if you don’t have a child in tow, you can have no legitimate, innocent reason for being in a children’s section of a library. If we’re trending toward a society in which the only people with access to minor children are their parents, teachers, and caregivers, everyone loses, potentially the kids most of all. — Ann Downer