Kennewick library giving students the boot

Via Melissa, one of my students comes this article from Kennewick, WA: Kennewick library Giving StUdents the Boot.

Attention grabbing headline, no?

From the article:

Kennewick High School students have been banned from using the library across the street from their school while classes are in session.

Students who often walked across the street to the library during lunch arrived at school last week and learned they were no longer welcome there — at least not between 7:30 a.m. and 2:10 p.m.

“I think it’s stupid that they call it the public library and it’s not open to the public,” said Lynden Rothfork, a 15-year-old sophomore.

Mid-Columbia Library System officials say they aren’t trying to keep kids out of the library. They want to make sure kids aren’t skipping school. And anyone who looks like they could be in high school can expect to be carded before being given the OK to go inside.

Later, here’s where it really breaks down for me:

Library staff members are left to use their judgment to decide whether someone looks young enough to be in school. Those who appear younger than 18 have to show their ID.

“There will be some training for staff to make sure … they’re fairly and consistently applying the policy,” Cox said. “We are not going to turn anyone away.”

But, a young couple with a toddler were turned away last week after a library staffer suspected the woman was younger than 18.

The staffer asked the petite woman if she was in school and then for her ID. The woman said she was 24, but couldn’t prove it so she was told she has to leave. The woman explained that she was with her husband and son, but the library staffer wouldn’t budge on the rules.

The woman said the library staffer was discriminating against her simply because she looks young, and the staffer replied that if she didn’t leave, they would call the police.

“I would hope that it wouldn’t happen,” Cox said after hearing about the incident. “That raises questions, and I will be following up with staff on that.”

Placing the burden of policing the library on staff is a bad choice in my opinion. I wonder if there are other solutions that might be easier on everyone. Another point the article makes is that some students used the library during lunch. With the new policy they can’t.

“I used it every day. The library in school doesn’t always have the right resources,” said Taylor Crawford, 17, a junior.

Cox said he wasn’t sure why students couldn’t use the library during lunch, but that was the rule based on the joint agreement between the library board and the school district. “Ease of administration” of enforcing the policy likely prompted the lunchtime restriction, he said.

“Ease of administration” ?? Oh My!

And did you catch this oh so typical gem:

Cox said the policy was developed jointly with the Kennewick School District to deal with truancy issues after a patron complained about truant students in the library.

A patron? One? Say it ain’t so, Kennewick! Why does it seem that we jump like crazy when one patron complains about young people in our libraries when other similar thing situations are tolerated? I’m reminded of the policies at Jenny Levine’s home library that prevents people from actually checking out new books for two weeks after they arrive in the library. Why hasn’t that changed? I’m sure some patrons have expressed concern. I just don’t get it.

I’ll be using this in classes for discussion. What changes would make the policy more user-centered? What changes would take the role of “policing” off of the library staff. What story might these students remember about their library as they grow up?

What do you think?

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25 thoughts on “Kennewick library giving students the boot”

  1. I honestly don’t think it’s the public library’s responsibility to worry about truancy. If it’s such a problem in that community, police officers could make time to stop by the library every once in a while. Library staff should not be expected to enforce the law.

  2. What about students that legally dropped out of school at 16?

    And a bit closer to my heart – what about homeschool students? Many of them rely on the library – it’s like their school library! Will the library turn THEM away, too? I can see it now: (librarian) “You can’t be here – go back to school.” (student) “But I AM in school!” (librarian): “… uhm …”

    What a stupid, terrible policy. I don’t think this is a role the library should be pursuing – that’s up to police and the schools – not the library.

  3. When I skipped in high school, I would go to the library, but I would be reading.

    As silly as it sounds, wouldn’t you rather have kids go to the library when not in school, than almost anywhere else? Is forcing teenagers to hang out in parking lots and malls, or the proverbial crack den, that much better than letting them go to the library?

  4. I am speechless.

    I wish you were one of my library school profs. We never came anywhere close to discussing topics like this. What a waste of my time and money.

  5. I agree with Michele. If kids are skipping school to go to the library then what’s the big deal. Libraries aren’t there to enforce truancy laws. Let the executive branch deal with that. I think the kids that are cutting class to go to the library aren’t the ones we should be worried about.

  6. I agree with Michele. Truancy is a problem, but students who go to the library when skipping probably aren’t delinquent types in the first place. If they are, then that’s a patron-by-patron judgment call.

    This policy sounds like it has a lot of administrative overhead, plus the potential for discrimination issues, plus all the special cases. All told, it’s a hassle for young-looking patrons, and a waste of staff time.

    I’d like to note that survey data has shown that patrons would rather not be greeted upon entering a public library. Being asked for ID is even more intrusive.

    It’s important to endear this generation to libraries. Librarians have a chance to break the stereotypes and image issues with these incumbent patrons, whereas older patrons are more set in their ways. This policy is just one big bespectacled ‘shush!’ in the face of the community’s teens.

  7. Oh my goodness, this would never fly where I work. We have tons of homeschoolers who work independently at our libraries. We also have a lot of kids in nontraditional education programs who might work half the day and go to school the other half.

    If I were a kid, this would make me feel horrible.

    If I were a library staffer, I think I would feel even worse.

    Do any of those library board members work at the library? Have they ever?

  8. Actually, at the library where I work, we have kids who are so addicted to the internet that they skip school to come to the library and get on the computers. We even have kids who purposely get kicked out of school so that they can come to the library and get on the computers rather than go to school. Staff members have been asked by truancy officers to look out for certain kids and call the officers if we see those kids in the library. It’s a tricky issue–where does that responsibility begin and end for libraries when it comes to their younger patrons?

  9. What kind of delinquent goes to the library when they are ditching class? The library is a haven and it should stay that way. It is the school’s responsibility, along with the police, to deal with truancy. And as Michele stated, if a child is going to skip class, its better they are hanging out a the library than malls, parking lots, or some other place full of ne’er do wells.

  10. Wow, I would hate to work there, just having kids come into the Library and use the resources is a beautiful thing. To bad the staff have to police instead of encouraging kids to explore what a library has to offer.

  11. That’s the area of Washington State I was born and raised in. I have to say, the libraries around there have some of the weirdest policies I’ve ever seen. I’m not sure which library Ms. Levine called home, but the Yakima Library has the same exact policy. New books are put on display for a week. You can’t have them. You can’t check them out. You have to reserve them. Why?

    Well, I worked there for over ten years and I was never able to find out.

  12. This issue always seems to come up periodically. I’ve not only had the disgruntled customer complaining about it, but frequently staff complaining about “truant” kids based just on their guess about their age. The irony to me is that with these kids in our library we have a chance to make a difference. Instead of getting on a high horse about whether the kids should be in school, why not talk to them? Do an impromptu book-talk. Tell them about the programs you’re having later. Or just sit down and play a game with them. If they’re skipping school, they’re probably in need of positive adult interaction!

  13. I’m shocked that this policy was passed. They are setting a horrible public image for themselves and making it harder to reach teenagers. I have to agree with everyone’s concerns for homeschooling families, drop outs, and just people who look younger. I find it ridiculous that rather than embracing the students who choose to visit the library during their lunch hour they are pushing them away. It’s a shame and I hope it gets reconsidered.

  14. If the school has an open campus policy, that does not make it the library’s responsibility to monitor the students.

  15. Library Bill of Rights, Article V:
    A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.

  16. It doesn’t really say why the students are coming to the library. There are probably lots of reasons why young people are there, but it appears as if they have focused on one, truancy.

    We have a lot of late start and half days and full non-attendance (institute days) at our high schools. We also serve patrons from three high schools at our public library, and that doesn’t even begin to address the determining whether the people are students in one of these high schools, home schooled, early graduates, or just young looking graduates. I can’t imagine how this policy would work. It seems ill conceived and short-sighted on the parts of both administrations.

    Surely there is a better way to encourage kids want to go to school rather than to tell them they are not allowed in the library. It is a challenge to build programs for all students, but for those who don’t want to attend class, this is a situation that should be approached as an opportunity to engage rather than shut out them out. Perhaps a better way to use the resources available would be for the library and high school to share an employee (perhaps a librarian with a teaching or counseling background) to explore the issue and try to come up with a more positive solution with the support of both administrations. It might be a good opportunity to write a grant…

  17. To me it looks like the school is having a truancy problem and is trying to work with other community organizations (like the library) to solve the problem. I think it would be best for them to hold an open meeting and to communicate to the kids about truancy (perhaps they have done this).

    I agree with most opinions here about home schoolers and a bad message from the library, but I’m not sure what the right solution is. Certainly, the library is a better place for any kid to hang out than on the street corner. But if the kids should be in school and instead are ditching to do gaming on the library computers, I think the library ought to help the school and get the kids back in class.

  18. I agree with what everyone has said, but I also wanted to know more about the library in the high school. It said in the article-

    “I used it every day. The library in school doesn’t always have the right resources,” said Taylor Crawford, 17, a junior.

    Maybe an easy solution would be to take a look at the high school’s library and what is going wrong there that forces the teens to walk across the street to use resources at the public library.

    I was literally gaping with my mouth open as I read this. Unbelievable!

  19. A truancy problem is none of the library’s business, and besides being difficult to enforce already seems to be having a negative impact on the library’s mission. Not to mention the negative press it’s garnering. Anyone care to hazard a guess as to what effects THAT’s going to have?

  20. All of these points are so true. The school needs to deal with its truancy issue if they have one. The library should not have to deal with training staff to discern whether patrons are students or adults who look like students. Shouldn’t their training be more customer service oriented?

    What else is going on here? Are the kids being disruptive during this time? Even so, there should be a better solution than the one described here. I have been in the situation where unruly kids come into the library and disrupt it. You want to set a time that they can’t attend because they are out of control.

    But that is not the solution in that case either. All parties need to look at the problem from all angles and decide on a better solution where all everyon can feel validated. Often things go from bad to worse because no one takes the time to address the needs of those involved.

  21. If I had been the couple with the toddler, on being informed that they would call the police, I think I would have said “you must do as you see fit,” and then I’d have gone on reading to the toddler. Surely some heroic senior will go in there and make them call the police?

  22. Well, they finally changed the policy. More like get ridding of it because it was against some sort of law. Thnx all for agreeing with me and the other students about the stupid policy

  23. It sounds like a lot of people commenting here are either idealistic library school students or haven’t entered a public library in years. The “beautiful” notion of young people coming in to “use the resources” is, in my experience, a fantasy–unless you’re talking about kids skipping school to use the computers (MySpace).

    I work in a public library that serves six schools in the immediate area and we average almost 60 young people daily. They’re here for one reason: to be entertained. Mostly they spend their time on Web sites like MySpace and loiter unproductively all day despite best efforts on the part of library staff to find suitable and enjoyable programming for them. I had a conversation with one eleven year-old young man today about why he wasn’t in school and he told me he “forgot to go.” He couldn’t tell me the year in which he was born, couldn’t verbalize the difference between the concepts of days, months, and years (he kept using the words interchangeably, so I asked), and couldn’t figure out what the word “read” said while glancing at some materials on my desk.

    Since we’re a public library, we aren’t allowed to call the truancy officer. So tell me: who is to ensure that these young people are properly educated when parents aren’t enforcing attendance and there is a “haven” (refuge from big bad school!) in a library that won’t call them on their wrong actions and gives them a free pass to fun and games (as some have suggested) whenever they want to cut class to get it?

    I will agree that there are better ways of doing this than carding people at the door (perhaps setting time limitations on designated computers for children and teens–using software blocks or not turning them on till after school hours) but this is an issue that has definitely not been addressed adequately and unfortunately can’t be solved by throwing ideals at it.

  24. Truancy is in the jurisdiction of the schools, not the public libraries. I think this just gives librarians a bad name at a time when we need to be proving to people that we should STILL EXIST at all. I really hope they reverse this policy. I have worked in libraries where young people congregate, and yes, they can be annoying. Librarians shouldn’t get to decide who can or cannot use the library just because they see them as “loitering unproductively.”

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