Library Let Down ~You Had Your Chance, and You Blew It

Posted on May 1st, 2013 by Carolyn Hart in Storytime Standouts Shares Early Literacy News and Commentary

Storytime Standouts Shares Commentary About insensitivity Shown at a Public LibraryAlmost three weeks ago, I drove forty five minutes from my home and met up with my eighteen year old nephew. He had just disembarked from a forty minute ferry ride. Our purpose in meeting was to spend the day together and make progress with his online Communications 12 course work. My nephew is a remarkable young man. Orally, he uses words like ‘pristine’ and ‘colleagues’ but, when he comes to writing those words on paper or typing them into a computer, he is challenged. Working his way through Communications 12 has not been easy. It is not offered at his high school. He is forced to work independently, completing assignments online.

When I say that graduating from Grade 12 in June will be a spectacular achievement and one that the entire family will celebrate joyfully, I really mean it.

To my nephew’s enormous credit he has persevered with the online course and even came and stayed with me over Spring Break so we could work together on it. We managed to make a good deal of progress during Spring Break but there was still a long way to go. We decided to meet on a Monday.

I drove to the ferry terminal and picked my nephew up. Because we needed WIFI and a place where we could optimize productivity, we drove to the nearest public library. It was not “my” public library nor was it “his” public library. It was the closest public library to the ferry terminal.

Although I had been to this library previously, it is not one that I know well. When we arrived, we explored the first floor, looking for a suitable place to work together. There were “Quiet” rooms and individual study carrels but we didn’t find anything suitable for the two of us. We walked up the stairs and found the Children’s Section to our right and the Teen Room to our left. Just beyond the Teen Room, we could see a group of four people who occupied a glass-enclosed meeting room. The Teen Room was empty and we decided it would be a good place to open our laptops and get to work.

We settled ourselves at a counter, signed into the WIFI and got started. It probably would not surprise you to know that the Teen Room was lovely and quiet on a Monday morning. In fact, the entire time we were in the Teen Room, we did not see another patron. We worked our way through a couple of Communications 12 assignments and were surprised when a librarian approached us and informed us that we were in “THE TEEN ROOM.” We explained that we knew we were in the Teen Room, that my nephew is 18 and that we were working on Communications 12. Seemingly satisfied, she left us.

We got back to work and continued to make progress with his coursework. We were completely alone. Not one other person came into the Teen Room until, a half hour later, another librarian approached us. “This is The Teen Room,” she said. It was pretty clear that she knew we had already had a similar discussion, “We don’t allow anyone who is over 18 into this room. Not parents, not tutors.”

It was not even worth mentioning that I am neither a parent nor my nephew’s tutor. I am just someone who loves him and will do anything to help him succeed. We were told to move downstairs or into the Children’s Section.

We packed up the laptops and moved to the Children’s Section where preschool-aged children happily chattered about picture books and distracted an eighteen-year-old who was desperate to get as much work done as possible.

I would not have minded being asked to move out of the Teen Room if either librarian had offered encouragement or support. In my opinion, rather than ensuring that no adult ever steps foot into an otherwise unoccupied Teen Room, librarians ought to be delivering a message of support: ‘We are here to help you,’ ‘If there is anything you need, please let us know,’ ‘Congratulations on your upcoming Graduation’ would all have been great messages under the circumstances.

It may not be immediately apparent to a librarian, but my nephew’s upcoming graduation is a momentous, life-changing accomplishment that has been earned the hard way. The fact he is choosing to spend a day, holed up in the library, with his aunt is also awesome. You could have made that day brighter. You could have made that day more productive. You could have delivered a message of support. Instead, your disapproval was clear. Your lack of enthusiasm was clear. Your lack of interest in a young man who is admirably dealing with challenges you have never known was clear.

Regrettably, I left feeling that I would rather not visit your library again. How sad.

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2 Comments on “Library Let Down ~You Had Your Chance, and You Blew It”

  1. Denise

    Hi Carolyn,
    Thank you for so eloquently describing the experience that you and my son had at a supposedly “public” library. Were the two library staff members impressed to see a young person (still a TEEN for goodness sake!) striving to accomplish a challenging learning task with encouragement from a family member? Not at all. Shouldn’t the public libraries in our communities roll out their welcome mats and celebrate every person who is striving to strengthen their literacy? Absolutely!

  2. Katie Fitzgerald

    Wow, no adults in the teen room, even in the company of teens? That is a pretty strict policy. I am a children’s librarian, and as such, I often have to ask adults at my branch library not to linger in the children’s or teen space if they are not in the company of any young people. But I would never dream of interfering with an adult who is obviously working with a student who is a child or teen! (I wish we saw more of that, to be honest. Most of the time, we find that kids and teens are left to their own devices for hours on end with no adult supervision!)

    I think the worst thing about the whole scenario, though, is not the rule, but the cold and dismissive tone that was used to reprimand you. Obviously, there are some rules librarians aren’t allowed to bend, and maybe this was one of those for this librarian, but if she had just delivered her message in a kind, sympathetic tone with more of a personal touch, I think the whole “no adults in the teen room” idea would have been easier to swallow, even it is still a silly rule. It frustrates me when people who represent my profession behave so unprofessionally!

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