No MySpace, Facebook at Mishawaka Library 46

Via the South Bend Tribune and a bunch of folks who emailed me:

You can no longer use MySpace, Facebook or other “social networking sites” at Mishawaka-Penn-Harris Public Library.

Fights, lewd language and cars being blocked in the parking lot by teenagers are among the problems Director Dave Eisen said have plagued the downtown library lately.

He told library board members that adults have complained about not feeling safe at the library. Eisen and his staff believe the teenagers are there to use MySpace, Facebook and other social sites.

Oh boy. This is my hometown library. It saddens me that the space between “social networking sites” to “not feeling safe” seems so short. The article notes the ban is probably working:

It might have worked, as there were few teenagers going to the computer room by 3:30 p.m. Friday, a half hour after it normally begins to fill up. There were few teenagers even coming in to the computer room at the library.

I wonder where the teens will go? Maybe to SJCPL, which has wifi and computers at all locations.  I wonder how the library will be perceived in a few years as these young people grow up, graduate Mishawaka High and begin the next chapter of their lives. Will they remember the library later? Will they care about it? If you remember, this is where I got my first library card. Will they bring their kids? Will they rather go to the Panera, Starbucks, Martins Supermarkets (which has free wifi), the Info Commons at IUSB, etc.

Shouldn’t the library be participating in offering access to these spaces while actively intervening and educating these digital citizens?

I reminded of Maplewood. It’s a similar thing really: locking the doors of the library or blocking access to sites. Are there alternatives? I think there are but it depends so much on the library. I’d take a long look at services to teens at the library. Isn’t this a perfect time for engagement and education? I know some libraries have been successful with “Rock my MySpace” classes for teens while parents get “Social Networking & Your Kids” style learning opportunities. I’d love to hear what the teen librarians have done at MPL – have there been classes? Is there a teen advisory board?

I think I have some questions about this ban as well. Are the sites blocked via wifi too? Is it just teens or everyone? I communicate with my students via Facebook and just joined the Dominican group there. Could I check in on my students via Facebook if I happened to be at the library? I’m also wondering about sites like Flickr. What if I was home for a few days and my Comcast went down? Would I be able to upload pics to Flickr at MPL? Or maybe I could just head to Panera. The teens, however, might not have a laptop to take to Panera.

My former employer, the SJCPL is mentioned:

Don Napoli, director of the St. Joseph County Public Library, said the staff there has discussed problems with teenagers but decided to try to get them into the library instead of trying to get them to leave.

“They do cause problems,” he said. “But that’s life.”

Amen. I think my heart would break a little if a library system so progressive as SJCPL banned access to social sites.

I’d love some feedback and inspiration here to help me understand. What has worked for you, TTW readers, when encountering young people who cause “all kinds of disturbances” as Mishawaka Public Library Director David Eisen states. Have you banned and blocked? Have you intervened and educated? Please share.

And if anyone from Mishawaka Public Library can offer more insight, please do.

Further reading for Mishawaka Public Library folk:

Update — see also:

A Musical Interpretation of this post


46 thoughts on “No MySpace, Facebook at Mishawaka Library

  • dwallen

    effectively the new policy is moving the young adult problem to somewhere else — nothing like the ostrich approach to resolving this ever growing problem — and as stated above we should be engaging young adults not turning them away

    i also thought the library services would be welcoming as many people as possible to the library to at least show that they are still relevant — not too sure what happens to a library service with low patronage 🙂

    at our library we have a whole floor devoted to uncensored public internet access (100 PCs) and free wireless — the area is heavily used by young adults through to business people — to date no problems and this area is bordered by a under 8s area

  • caterwaul

    My branch is located in a very urban neighborhood with high crime and low income levels. We’ve had a lot of concern about security, and we have ongoing discussions about what to do with “kids causing trouble because so many of them didn’t have enough to do”.

    Here is what we’ve done so far:

    * We trained our entire staff so that we know how to talk to people (not just kids) and de-escalate situations instead of letting conflict grow.
    * We ask people to stick to one person per computer (although things are crowded enough in the teen area that this is a moot point.
    * A library card is required for using the computers, and you have 3 turns (up to an hour long) a day.
    * We keep as many employees as possible on the floor, walking around, talking with customers, playing board games (chess, mancala) with kids, reading books with kids, etc, to build relationships with customers.
    * When things get really bad and we evict people, we require them to leave the property or we call the local police. If they violate their evictions, we call the police. We also work hard to establish strong relationships with our local police officers (and their commanders).
    * If you’d like some more ideas, email me. This is a topic near and dear to my heart. If we’re really open to all, that includes young people who are “goofing off” a little.

  • jo

    Am working on a MLIS uni assignment on teens in public libraries and have used this as an example -well cited of course! – of changes and challenges facing staff dealing with teens. The above comments have been very insightful, and makes me wonder where the youth are, as they are not in our library at all!!

  • Melissa

    Has it occurred to them that teens are not the only patrons using MySpace and Facebook? At ACPL we see adults using these sites every day. What’s going to happen to those people? Especially the ones who don’t check out books, but use the library solely for Internet access?

  • Anonymous

    What a Joke. Of course that crap should be banned. If you don’t feel that way YOU DO NOT WORK AROUND KIDS AND COMPUTERS at a public library. It is no longer safe to come to the library where I work. Fights, loud congregations, roving gangs of teens, and shouting lewd language have become the norm. Myspace and Facebook are NOTHING more than distractions to pollute the already sensory-overloaded psyche of the American youth. Would it kill these rude and foul mouthed kids to pick up a book every once and while? Or, do they want to remain ignorant and clueless for the rest of their lives? Most of these kids would spend the whole day on the computer if you would let them. At least Mishawaka-Penn-Harris Public Library has the guts to stand up to this type degradation of the public library space, the public space in general.

  • Grelda

    I’m still studing (Barcelona, Spain) and here we do have free access but only 4 hours a week because there are too many people and too little pcs in our libraries. And yes, we do make trouble. In libraries with social problems (as the one you describe) I’ve read somewhere they have engaged a social worker so they can work things out together with the librarians and the users. I really hope libraries remain free and open to everyone. If you beging banning social network, what would be next?
    I don’t agree with Anonymous, I’ll pray for him to change his mind, kids and teens are not crap.

  • Tamara

    I am floored by the response of “Anonymous.” The fact that the response was written without any name to claim it says a lot about the person who wrote it.

    I also think it’s interesting that this person finds social networking elements such as being able to comment on a blog as useful and necessary in the online world, but does not give these same luxuries to teens and kids who do not have the same venues to voice their opinions, concerns, or worries.

    I wish I had grown up with MySpace and Facebook. I think I would have been a much more social and well-adjusted person. I was shy and uncomfortable, and having a forum in which I could just be “myself” would have been a lifesaver.

    I was just as rowdy and out-of-control in public spaces when I was a teen (over 10 years ago.) This hasn’t changed. Library staff simply need to be trained as to the best way to handle these situations, and stop punishing everyone for the mistakes of a few.

  • Ian

    I think if you want to ban teens from the library, that’s what you should do – not this passive-aggressive crap where you take away what you think they’re doing. It seems fairly obvious to me that MySpace is not causing teens to block cars in. If you have a behavior problem, why wouldn’t you address the behavior instead of what you think MIGHT be drawing kids to the library?

  • sylvie

    It reminds me of a time when we had similar issues at MPOV and this was also considered to be a solution.
    -we opted to train staff on what should be addressed:Fights, shouting and lewd language mostly. We were very consistent in addressing that.
    -we also posted a “RESPECT” sign from an idea stolen form PLCM:


  • Anonymous

    Tamara: do you actually work in library? Do you have any real idea what kind of disruptive behavior is actually going on in the public computing spaces? Commenting on a blog is not the same as having 13 KIDS ROAMING FROM COMPUTER TO COMPUTER, ROOM TO ROOM, TRYING TO FIND MORE PRECIOUS MYSPACE TIME. Get real, you obviously don’t know what you are talking about. Oh yeah, the anonymous thing, that is because other people at the library I work can read this blog. And you know what, they haven’t done a damn thing to protect US (the staff) – the ones that actually have to deal with all of this disruptive behavior, despite our best efforts to alert them of the problems. So until you can walk a mile in THESE shoes you need to rethink your comments!

  • Ian

    As for Anonymous (if that IS your name):

    I do work around kids and computers in a public library. It is relatively safe to come to the library where I work (downtown facility in a Midwestern city of about 250,000). Occasionally, there are loud teens. Occasionally, they use language we don’t want. We don’t have many fights – one or two in the last couple of years. It seems somewhat disingenuous, or at least naive, to assume that because you have a bad situation at your library, everyone must, which is what your all-caps emphasis implies.

    More on topic: the vast majority of teens in my library do pick up a book – fairly often one that I recommend. They use Myspace and Facebook – and our teen blog – to communicate with each other. On the other hand, it is the prerogative of every American teen to claim the intent to remain ignorant and clueless for the rest of their lives. That you can write a complete sentence is perhaps not exceedingly convincing proof that not every teen from your generation followed through on that intent, but we will allow it as evidence.

    If MPHPL had real “guts”, they’d tell the problem kids “You can’t do that here,” and then if they did it anyway, they’d ban those kids from the library, and they’d do that with as many kids as it takes to get the message across to the other problem kids – that’s what I would call “standing up to this type of degradation” – instead of whining and wringing their hands about “teenagers nowadays,” and biting the hand of future taxpayers, and throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

    Behavior must be dealt with in public libraries. But if public library staff and administrators try to address the causes of the behavior, they need to be honest with themselves about just how complex those causes are, and not arbitrarily decide “it must be social networking sites.” Society has rules. Insist that your patrons obey them.

  • Ian

    Anonymous, your anger is clear, and the reason for your anger is clear. But it seems like the target of your anger should be the administration at your library that won’t do anything to protect you. Yes, sure, obviously you’re angry at the kids as well, but it’s the JOB of your administration to protect you, and they’re not doing it – you can’t blame MySpace for that. Still, you have a bad situation, and I’m sorry it’s gotten so out of control.

  • Larry

    Of course I agree with Anonymous. I just 5 minutes ago received an internal memo where my fellow division heads here want an immediate meeting with the PTB in administration because they are sick and tired of having guns and knives carried onto the premises, being followed to their cars, calling the police several times a day, – and just this morning the head of the library let us all know that an armed policeman will be on duty on the way to the car park here.

    I have worked in the inner city, in a jail, etc., and felt safer there than I do here. Myspace and Facebook aren’t the causes of this behavior, of course. But getting people in at any cost is just that – at any cost.

  • Anonymous

    Ian: I too am sorry the situation has gotten out of control. Perhaps my anger is palpable; however, believe me, I have just cause to feel the way I do. Honestly, I would say without hesitation 85% of the time I work I am verbally accosted in one form or another. We have fights at least on a bi-weekly average. It is truly out of control. Anger at the administration is warranted, obviously; however, the lack of respect that staff receives from these problem youth is absolutely breathtaking. Believe me, I understand that it is a complex issue that cuts much deeper than access to social networking sites. Regardless, thou, it is not too much to expect that these kids (below 18) at least treat you with the same respect you are presenting to them. That is, after all, just basic common decency. I do not subscribe to the theory that since we are a PUBLIC Library, we automatically must provide to all patrons all areas of content. It simply does not work when you have hundreds of individuals using the public computing space for nothing more than entertainment (and not following rules to boot).That does not leave space for individuals who are actually trying to use the Library for its educational and research resources.

  • M&M

    I work in the reference department at SJCPL and yes – we’re getting the overflow from Mishawaka now that MySpace and Facebook have been restricted. Our computers are basically full with a queue all of the time. I’ll share some thoughts…

    First, we have a limit of 2 persons per computer. We were hesitant to do that, but found that things were just getting too loud. We do still get complaints about the noise level and we try to keep the peace as much as we can. We don’t have our computers in a special room – they are all at circular stations in front of the reference desk.

    Second, we have security. Lots of security. We have over 20 cameras and no fewer than 4 security staff in the building at all times. This is a luxury that some libraries may feel that they cannot afford, but I question that. It is a matter of priorities. Patrons have to feel safe. Staff has to feel safe. If patrons don’t feel safe they stop coming – except for the patrons who are contributing to the problem – so you have a situation that grows exponentially worse.

    Finally, we have an administration that will back up their staff. We have been told that if we need to intervene in a Code of Conduct violation that we should act with the confidence that administration will support our decision. Fortunately this is not often necessary, because we can simply call security, but there have been a few instances where threatening language has been used and library staff stepped in to address the issue before it came to blows.

    It is a difficult balance to strike. Discouraging troublemakers is important, but discouraging an entire demographic from using library services seems like something that will contribute to future problems for the library system. I get annoyed by teens. You bet. But isn’t that their job? Sometimes it is a good day when we get them to keep their pants up and their tops down. lol But they seem to like it here and they’ll remember that when, someday, they need information in addition to that entertainment.

  • Larry, again

    Ah, Anonymous, if I were a tenth as eloquent as you are.

    I concur that just because we are a public place does not mean that we have to provide all things to all people at all times, regardless of intent or behaviour. There truly is a concept of rights, but also of obligations. Teens are teens, but delinquents are delinquents, and the mentally ill are just that. I am sorry for all of their troubles but the library is meant to be a library, not a holding tank.

    There’s a reason why 6 of twelve division heads have retired in the past 3 months. It’s called not being taken seriously.

  • Ian

    Anonymous: From my safe seat NOT in the middle of your situation, I will now solve all your problems. Ha ha, joke, get it …

    Seriously though, if an institution allows people to become abusive with no consequences, they will continue to be abusive. And for some people – some teens included – seeing that there are no consequences makes them more likely to behave poorly, even if they weren’t likely to in the first place, because they want to be part of the cool crowd of abusive people.

    In this atmosphere – let’s call it the Escape From New York/Mad Max/Doomsday atmosphere – respect is nearly impossible for these patrons, and is probably approaching impossible for staff. Showing them respect is commendable, but if there are no RULES, or if rules aren’t enforced, there is no motivation for them to return it. Society works on rules that are essentially quid pro quo.

    Your administration must address this problem by making rules, enforcing them, and kicking out anyone – ANYONE, not just teens – who can’t follow them. Though I’d guess there might be a lot of teens kicked out the first week the solution is in place. It would need to be a serious amount of time, too, at the beginning – a month, probably. Then get ready to reinforce a month later when all of the first wave comes back. Eventually, you could go to a graduated series of time penalties – similar to what other libraries do – a day, then a week, then a month, then a year, then for life.

    And a minor point: when the rules start being enforced, don’t be wishy washy about it either. None of this “I’ll give you three chances” stuff. Break a rule, you’re out; here’s a copy of the rules for when you come back, including what happens if you come back before you’re allowed to.

    If your administration owns up to their mistakes and implements this plan, I’m available to consult.

  • caterwaul

    If my post before didn’t say it, please know this: I’ve been where you are, in a location where things were completely out of control, and we changed the way we handle things. It took about 6 months for things to change enough so that my staff and other customers all feel comfortable in the branch. We got every staff person trained, we set very clear limits on behavior, we posted our code of conduct (we even have small printed versions that we hand out to custoemers) and we don’t let even minor outbursts go by without addressing them.

    You are not paid enough to have to put up with abuse.

    As Ian describes (I wonder if we work in the same place, it sounds so familiar), if you set limits and enforce them, if every employee has the same standards and enforces the same conduct, if you evict customers who are not following the rules, things will get back in order.

    We have gangs vying for our territory – we’re right on the border between 3 gang territories. I have kids coming in dressed inappropriately (we don’t allow underwear to show in the library). We have seen weapons in the building (we don’t need to deal with anything until it’s brandished). We also have cameras, security officers (2 full-time officers), panic buttons at each desk and other systems in place that help us know we can handle situations.

    When people don’t follow our rules, we explain the rule first, give them a few minutes to comply, and if they don’t we ask them to leave. It is all about setting effective limits. When we hear cussing we ask the speaker to leave. Whenever someone starts to get physical with someone else, we ask them to leave (“but he’s my brother” doesn’t cut it, either). I have evicted people for egging on fights, too, if I could prove that they did it. My administration backs me up, too, which helps tremendously.

    Last Spring a young man was outside the building, still on our property, when 2 other men started beating him up. They got in a few hits before my security officer came close and broke it up. Asking the first young man why he didn’t fight back, he replied “because I can’t go a whole year without the library.” The word is out there – the kids all know the rules here. If you want to use these great computers and hang out in this nice building, you need to act a certain way. Period.

    We hired CPI to train some trainers in our library system, and their Foundation course is now required training for EVERYONE who works for our library. It has changed everything for the better, and we’re able to give better customer service because of it.

  • Lizzy

    “using the public computing space for nothing more than entertainment ”

    Fiction and DVD/CDs are nothing more than entertainment. We cannot dictate how our patrons use our resources other than not destroying them. There is nothing inherently wrong with teens using the computers for social networking. Just like there is nothing wrong with adults using it for the same purposes. (YES, we have adults that somehow circumvent cybrarian and stay on the net for HOURS looking at online profiles. But I don’t think anyone would ever dream of banning them from using computers in the same way.)

    This is not about how the resources are used, this is about behavior.

    We found ourselves overwhelmed with teens at the beginning of this school year and began programming almost exclusively in the afternoon after school instead of evenings and weekends. This paired with increased staff presence/interaction in the teen room has helped tremendously in keeping the teens interested but not unruly. And when someone does get out of hand they are kicked out.

    Now, we did not have the problems of gangs and violence but it doesn’t sound like that was the problem at MPHPL. (And putting general bad behavior in the same category as violent/criminal behavior is unfair and unjust IMO.) I’m sure they think they made the best decision for their library, but myself and others here have mentioned other things they could have done that would have been less counter-productive in the long run. It is a sad situation indeed.

  • Laura

    One topic not yet discussed is that unruly teens affect other teens’ usage. We noticed that entire groups of teens stopped using the library because of the crazy atmosphere of our teen area — fights, language, volume, etc. That was a wake-up call for me as the teen librarian, and the solution had nothing to do with the elimination or limitation of myspace or any other service. The reality is that we needed to control the teens, not the media. It’s hard every single day, but it’s the only long-term solution.

  • driblib

    I really think we need to examine the roles racism, ageism, and classist attitudes play in scenarios such as this one. If we make an attempt to address the root issues, which are deeply ingrained in our society and are therefore difficult to authentically discuss, we should be able to find innovative ways of creating a library culture that will meet the needs of all our patrons.

  • Jeff

    My library has experimented with banning MySpace for teens. It is a simple, low cost way to curtail the negative behavior (roaming packs, crowding around screens, etc). It is unfortunate for many responsible teens; however it should not be overlooked in the face of mounting criticism from -current- taxpayers. It did not drive away the teens, but it did tend to calm everyone down.

  • Keith

    My sympathies go out to all who must contend with unruly patrons of any sort. The staff are always on the front lines, and they too often lack the support they need to deal with these kinds of situations.

    This is clearly a situation of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. There is nothing inherently inappropriate with the use of social websites, no more than there is anything inherently wrong with using e-mail or speaking. This is a problem of patrons being abusive. They are the problem, not MySpace or Facebook.

    The problem with taking a hard line with problem patrons is that it is the very staff who are not getting the support they need who must enforce the new hard line rules. Restricting access across the board takes the big bulls-eye off of these staff, since the decision is out of their hands.

    Is it the correct decision? Probably not. Is it an understandable decision? Absolutely yes. After all, access to Facebook and MySpace is fairly inconsequential in comparison to the ability to feel comfortable and safe. It’s not just the staff who are affected by this kind of problem, and being a parent, I would not want my kids darkening the door of a library where this kind of problem was going on unchecked.

    Measures such as this actually could work as a very effective first step towards a proper solution. Remove access for everyone to let everyone know how serious the situation is… then, after a period of time, reintroduce access on a provisional basis along with a code of conduct. Let patrons know that access will be removed again if the problems recur. Leverage the power of social pressure.

    Beyond this, though… if this kind of thing is going on, it’s a clear sign that the library really needs some extra training and resources in handling problem teens and other problem patrons. There will always be a next big thing that they’re going to get all worked up over, and in the long term, their ability to get things banned across the board could even become some kind of power trip.

    Best wishes to the staff who are in this situation. It’s not a good one. Maybe we should all be taking this conversation to your administrations to let them know that they need to get on the ball!

  • sara

    All you are doing is publicly announcing that the Mishawake Library is AGEIST! How dose a library connect issues in the parking lot with technology? If your library looked at the teenagers on the computer and the teenagers in the parking lot you will find they are a different group of teens. As far as I can tell you are going against almost all 40 developmental assets for adolescents. In ten years time who is going to be the parent that bring there kids to story time? Well they WERE going to be the teenagers that you are being ageist to now. You never forget the lessons you learn in life. What life lesson are you teaching these teenagers?
    I encourage your librarians to talk to teenagers, become part of there life, bring back Myspace and Facebook, and look at the 40 developmental assets. You have one chance to make a difference in a child’s life.

  • rama

    Most students who go to the internet floor in libraries do go there because of social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook. But as to rules regarding the use of computers and access to these sites, I think we could go around the problem. Perhaps banning such social networks would raise uproar among students and teachers who use them in the right way. Why not establish guidelines in using the internet? Consider which is better among the social networks available today. Is Facebook Safer than Myspace?
    If the answer is yes, then let that be the only social networking site to be used.

  • Kingsmen

    It’s OK now, Michael—Mishawaka Public Library is now on Facebook–just found your website, late. What’s new about David Eisen snowing his board members? By The Way: PENN High School is ALSO in Mishawaka, Penn Twp residents pay PLENTY of taxes into that library AND that is OUR first library too. Remember? Eisen doesn’t, don’t need your slight, as well.

  • Anonymous

    I am currently employed at a library in Kentucky and I must say that I disagree with your assessment that the primary goal of the library should be to just let these actions go on without any moves to correct them. While I do agree that the steps taken are a bit extensive, the fact remains that the primary purpose of a library should be that of a center of learning that is open to anyone who is interested in learning something or attempting to discover something. A library is not an internet café nor is it a place for individuals to gather to place their personal feelings on a social networking website. As librarians, we are taught how to best help patrons discover, use, and understand the items we have on our stacks and we take great pains to offer our services in a kindly manner.

    However, the teens, at least at my particular branch of employment, have become the biggest thorns in our side. Despite offering special teen spaces, unique teen programs, and various other opportunities the problems that we started with have remained. In the case of our particular branch the problem had to do with particular teen patrons. These ‘problem’ patrons are often the source of either mischief or, in some cases, harm to others. While there are adult ‘problem’ patrons are most vocal and most confrontational are our teen ‘problem’ patrons. I personally feel that the solution to the problems experienced at your particular library, namely the parking issue among others, are the cause of individual teens who should be removed and I do agree that eliminating it for all is a bit much. Having said that, I completely understand the Library Director’s reasoning on this matter. Furthermore, it is easy to sit outside of a library system and question the judgements from the comforts of a classroom or a home, but when you work for the public on a regular basis you soon find that there are some individuals who complain about just anything and it is extremely likely that your particular Director had some nasty phone calls from irate older patrons who were inconvenienced by teens. In an effort to appease these patrons the Director took an option to cut the snake off at the head.

    At my particular branch, there are those patrons who often do complain about the slightest transgressions, be they real or imagined, and they demand immediate responses. In these cases it is difficult for us to act because our hands are tied by a management tactic that attempts to make all parties happy; this flawed way of viewing public relations has created situations where the end result is often a massive over-reaction. The library staff, often eager to find a way to calm down overzealous patrons are often forced to cut off access to certain things in an effort to appease these individuals. This policy of appeasement, much like its earlier 20th century political equivalent, is highly controversial and flawed as you have now seen. The correct solution, in my opinion, is to institute more business like procedures within a library setting and to enforce stricter patron codes of conduct in an effort to ensure that these kind of incidents never occur, thus allowing the teens to peacefully coexist with the other patrons.

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