Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Fear the children

It's impossible for too many blogs to talk about this NY Times article. Faced with too many teenagers after school, the Maplewood, N.J. public library will close two buildings from 2:45-5:00 PM daily.

I'm sure it's a problem and a big problem, but it's what I like to call a good sort of problem. Too many patrons is a challenge and an opportunity. By responding to the challenge by closing, Maplewood would seem to have lost an opportunity, and maybe their next generation of citizens and taxpayers. A damned shame they had no better choices nor enough community resources to deal with the problem. A lot of teachable moments are lost.

The Mapleword Trustees have posted a response to the concern. It's hard to fault the Maplewood Library -- they have an active teen group and lots of young adult collections and programs. It appears they have been trying everything for a long time, but not getting sufficient parent or community support. If it takes the entire village to raise a child, it's apparent the library can't do it alone.

My favorite young adult librarian favors the "duct tape" approach. Each middle schooler hanging out in the library should be approached by a burly volunteer with an extra-wide roll of duct tape. The child then has the choice of joining a duct tape craft project or being duct taped to the wall. It could work...
UPDATE: the Maplewood Trustees voted to rescind their earlier action. As explained on their website:

The Township, working with community leaders and school district officials and the Youth Task Force Committee presented two new programs that we believe will eventually help relieve past problems and provide middle school children with alternative places to go in the afternoons. Morrow Church has expanded its Hang Out Haven program from one to three days a week. The school district has engaged Family Connections, which currently operates a program at Columbia High School, to structure and implement an after school program in the Middle School. In addition the Township will provide funding for security officers at both branches of the library.

The Board of Trustees and the library staff recognize that we have a role to play in providing appropriate library programming to this age group. To that end the Trustees have requested funding for a full-time Young Adult Librarian to work directly with the middle school age group and a space planner to examine facilities at both library buildings and offer recommendations for better utilization of existing space. One direct result of a space evaluation report will hopefully be the creation of a computer lab at the Main Branch. In light of the effort that the Township and the school district have made to address the problems and provide solutions through concrete programs and funding, the Board reversed its decision and the library continued its normal hours of operation.

This sounds like a healthy, responsible, broad-based community response. It still leaves us asking (not just about Maplewood): why don't more parents take and teach responsibility? and why does it take a disaster to validate a crisis?

Good on you, Maplewood!

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