Every afternoon at Maplewood Middle School’s final bell, dozens of students pour across Baker Street to the public library. Some study quietly.Read the whole thing. Some critics of the crackdown argue that elderly patrons with loud voices don't generate the same kind of reaction as that of the youths. I doubt that retirees hanging out at the library are peeing on the bathroom floors or putting up graffiti on the walls.
Others, library officials say, fight, urinate on the bathroom floor, scrawl graffiti on the walls, talk back to librarians or refuse to leave when asked. One recently threatened to burn down the branch library. Librarians call the police, sometimes twice a day.
As a result, starting on Jan. 16, the Maplewood Memorial Library will be closing its two buildings on weekdays from 2:45 to 5 p.m., until further notice.
An institution that, like many nationwide, strives to attract young people, even offering beading and cartooning classes, will soon be shutting them out, along with the rest of the public, at one of the busiest parts of its day.
Library employees will still be on the job, working at tasks like paperwork, filing, and answering calls and online questions.
“They almost knocked me down, and they run in and out,” said Lila Silverman, a Maplewood resident who takes her grandchildren to the library’s children’s room but called the front of the library “a disaster area” after school. “I do try to avoid those hours.”
This comfortable Essex County suburb of 23,000 residents, still proud of its 2002 mention in Money magazine on a list of “Best Places to Live,” is no seedy outpost of urban violence. But its library officials, like many across the country, have grown frustrated by middle schoolers’ mix of pent-up energy, hormones and nascent independence.
Increasingly, librarians are asking: What part of “Shh!” don’t you understand?
About a year ago, the Wickliffe, Ohio, library banned children under 14 during after-school hours unless they were accompanied by adults. An Illinois library adopted a “three strikes, you’re out” rule, suspending library privileges for repeat offenders. And many libraries are adding security guards specifically for the after-school hours.
In Euclid, Ohio, the library pumps classical music into its lobby, bathrooms and front entry to calm patrons, including those from the nearby high school.
A backlash against such measures has also begun: A middle school in Jefferson Parish, La., that requires a daily permission slip for students to use the local public library after school was threatened with a lawsuit last month by the American Civil Liberties Union.
Librarians and other experts say the growing conflicts are the result of an increase in the number of latchkey children, a decrease in civility among young people and a dearth of “third places” — neither home nor school — where kids can be kids.
“We don’t consider the world as safe a place as it used to be, and we don’t encourage children to run around, hang around and be free,” said Judy Nelson, president of the Young Adult Library Services Association, part of the American Library Association. “So you have parents telling their kids that the library is a good place to go.”
Rowland Bennett, who served as the director of the Maplewood Memorial Library for 30 years and is now president of the local school board, said libraries had become “the child care center by necessity.”
I see a lot of this type of rowdiness at my college. Large numbers of students routinely disrupt the classroom setting -- and the kind of talk back the librarians face is all too common among many of the youth in my courses. Frankly, I'm blown away at this disrespect, which is apparently chalked-up to a decline in civility across society. A root problem in this decline is poor parenting. Respect for authority starts at home. If kids have not learned appropriate respect for authority within the family -- if there are little consequences for acting out -- it's no wonder that librarians or teachers battle students and often call for police backup.