The first question in the Children and Teens Twitter Chat was about the problems posed by young people unattended in the library and what should be done about it. As @rebeccasrandall rightly pointed out in the chat, there is a big distinction between kids and teens and library policies concerning young people in the library should reflect this. For the purpose of this post, my main focus will be on the issue of managing teen behaviour in the library.
The problem of unruly teens in the library has been widely discussed and appears to be an issue in many Western countries as reported in these articles: Monroeville Library Ohio: Unruly teens shatter library quiet, New Zealand library uses sonic device to repel teenagers, Halifax Canada: Teen Services Emerge as a Priority for the Library and Grafton Library, NSW: Library may drive out rowdy teens with classical music. Some of the more drastic measures taken to “handle” disruptive teen behaviour in libraries have included locking the library after school hours on weekdays, banning children under 14 during after-school hours unless accompanied by an adult or using sonic devices or music the target demographic doesn’t like as a deterrent. These measures may be highly effective in keeping rowdy teens away from libraries, however, since modern libraries strive to be welcoming, inclusive community hubs that provide services to meet the needs of their community, shutting out or openly deterring a portion of their community is not a sustainable solution for the betterment of the community as a whole.
The good news is that I am able to report on a number of very successful strategies for managing teen behaviour adopted by some libraries. When I did my fieldwork placement at Logan Central Library, the regional librarian explained to me that the library had previously had a problem with loud, disruptive, destructive and/or aggressive behaviours of teens, especially on Tuesday and Thursday nights when the library is open until 8pm. The library staff understood that the problem could not be solved by reiterating the library’s behaviour policy, giving verbal warnings, involving the security guards or calling the authorities. The regional librarian was resolute in her opinion that the library should meet the needs of its teenage patrons and saw the problems they were experiencing as an opportunity to restrategize. The library deployed their Young Persons’ Librarian to devise a program exclusively for teens to be run from 3.00pm to 8.00pm on Tuesday and Thursday nights. The program, called ‘Teen Meet’, includes activities such as film making and coding projects, gaming, making music with Garageband, jamming, movie nights and guest speakers. A large meeting room equipped with computers and audio-visual equipment as well as a lounge area is cordoned off for teens to ‘hang out’. The regional librarian stated that the program had, by providing their teens with a sense of belonging and acknowledgement of their wants and needs, changed negative behaviour into positive energy. The library rarely has to deal with unruly teen behaviour now.
Volunteer opportunities that are inspiring for teens have also been shown to turn pack leaders in misbehaviour into leaders in service learning. For example, the Seattle Public Library’s Service Learning Program assists teens in developing leadership and project management skills by putting their teenagers in charge of some of their programs. The strategy of programs being run by teens, for teens, has been reported as having contributed to the positive management of teen behaviour. Many fabulous ideas for involvement and empowerment of teens in library spaces can be found on this blog: The Loudmouth Librarian- the noisy messy, unruly adventures of a teen services librarian.
I understand that in some areas the problems of adolescent delinquency may be very severe and hence the strategies I have reported on may not necessarily be the answer but they certainly seem to be more aligned with the goal of modern libraries to build stronger communities than playing Barry Manilow songs on an endless loop!