I need help dealing with rowdy teenagers at the library.
January 27, 2010 5:50 PM   Subscribe

I need help dealing with rowdy teenagers at the library.

I'm a librarian who has worked for a large city system for five years. About six months ago I moved to a new branch in a nice neighbourhood close to where I live. For the most part it's a great branch; beautiful building, fantastic collection, friendly patrons. However, it is located across the street from a high school and every day at 3:15 the library fills up with kids who proceed to yell, swear, drop food everywhere, throw things at each other, make out and vandalize things. It's not as bad as the situation outlined in this article, but it's not far off.

Of course, the worst offenders are asked to leave, but most of the time they ignore us until we threaten to call security (we don't have a full-time guard) or the police. Management is extremely reluctant to ban anyone but the very worst cases (i.e. the boy who was caught lighting fire to a magazine, the girl who punched another girl in the face) in the name of creating a "welcoming environment" for teens, even though it seems to be costing us other patrons (most of the older regulars pack up and leave just before school lets out because they know what's coming). And even if we do kick them out or ban them it doesn't really matter...they're back causing trouble the next day or whenever their ban ends, and in the meantime the other kids don't learn anything from their example. And calling their parents (when we can...quite often we have no idea what their last names are, and even if they're logged into the computers they're often using someone else's number) usually does no good.

Obviously management realizes this is a problem, and we have taken steps to alleviate the situation, all of which have been unsuccessful. We set up a "teen area" in a semi-secluded spot, but they avoid it like the plague. We've always had after-school programs for teens, but they are sparsely attended and we have to stand guard outside the program room so that the kids who *do* show up aren't openly mocked by the other kids.

So as it stands the staff are demoralized because most of our time and energy is spent dealing with kids who have absolutely no respect for the library or other patrons, and because management doesn't seem to believe in proper discipline. I know that working in a public library is always going to entail a certain amount of dealing with difficult individuals, and we honestly have no problem with kids sitting and talking with each other, but most of this stuff is beyond the pale, or should be.

For the first few months I made an honest effort to try and work with these kids, but now I'm thoroughly sick of it all and I've been reduced to just wishing they didn't come in to the library at all. I come home frazzled and wanting a drink most nights, and while I'd hate to leave this branch (because it's so close to home and nice aside from this constant problem) if things don't improve I'll have to because the thought of putting up with these kids and their nonsense for another 1/5/25 years is really depressing.

So here's my question; can anyone suggest any other strategies for dealing with these kids in a constructive manner, or any coping mechanisms beyond rubbing my temples and muttering "calm blue ocean, calm blue ocean?"
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (34 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I'm a librarian too, but at a college. Have you been in touch with their school? Maybe the principal would let you discuss the situation with a group of kids and counselors over there during school hours. The kids might have some good ideas of ways to ameliorate the situation.

Is there any way to get teens involved in some project at the library? Can you give some kind of reward, like free books for helping out? Is there any grant money for teen programming that a (perhaps elected) board of teens could figure out how to spend? You need community input and support, talk to parents, people who work in local youth programs, ministers, etc.

Good luck!
posted by mareli at 6:05 PM on January 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

This sucks. I am so sorry.

As a recent teen myself (but one who loved libraries! and did not yell in them!) a few thoughts:

They don't care about your after school programs or your teen center or what have you not. I mean, a few of them will, I'm sure, because a few of them really do care about books. The rest of them come to the library because it is a place to go and hang out with friends before having to go back to their Stupid Homes with their Stupid Parents. This behavior is positively reinforced because the librarians don't really do anything about it. And by "do anything about it" I mean kick out anyone who acts like they're entitled to the free run of the place.

Have you talked to the school principal/district administrator/whoever about this? They might be able to provide alternate locations for the kids to go.

Can you hire a security guard?

Honestly, the only thing I can really think of is to make your library no longer a welcoming place for teens, because they are abusing you and the privilege -- except for the teens you really think love learning, books, etc. Support and encourage them.
posted by elisabethjw at 6:07 PM on January 27, 2010 [5 favorites]

Do you know any of the kid's names? Being able to greet them with a smile and by name will begin to build a relationship with them beyond being a free babysitter and a nag - they may start to take an interest in you as well and what you have to offer. If you can identify a 'ringleader' or two and start there it might accelerate your ability to bend them (slightly at first) to your will. Give them a purpose. Give them a focus. Most people would respond to a plea for help: can you enlist them in reshelving or some project for the library? It might be soul-killing to be friendly to them at first, but I think if you can build a rapport with the kids you will begin to have influence on their behavior. They should learn your name too. Maybe they won't be re-shelving or organizing a collection for you, but they're much more likely to hush when you ask, or adjourn to the teen area if you ask. You're in a tough situation - I admire your guts.
posted by smick at 6:08 PM on January 27, 2010 [4 favorites]

I second talking to the school about this. A similar situation happened in my neighborhood, and the school sent over a dean to sort of parade through the library, looking over the kids. The kids seemed to sense that he knew who they were, and that there were "real" consequences for their behavior -- him contacting their parents, perhaps?
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:13 PM on January 27, 2010 [5 favorites]

"the worst offenders are asked to leave, but most of the time they ignore us until we threaten to call security (we don't have a full-time guard) or the police."

I have no qualifications to address this question, but I would think that EVERY offender (not just the worst) should be asked once to correct their behavior (be quiet, etc.) and then be told to leave the very next time they cross the line. If they don't leave, you should call security / the police immediately. It's inappropriate for you to bargain or plead with them. Tolerating all but the worst and being hesitant to put your foot down invites disrespect.

On preview, the idea of talking with the school sounds really good. You may not know the kids' names, but someone who works right across the street does.
posted by jon1270 at 6:22 PM on January 27, 2010 [7 favorites]

Exclude them. You owe them nothing
posted by A189Nut at 6:23 PM on January 27, 2010 [5 favorites]

I worked at a public library between a middle school, a high school, and an elementary school. It was about like what you are describing, and it was exhausting. I know how frustrating it can be when the administration is not backing you up.

What worked (somewhat) for us:

We had a computer lab and a room specifically set up with video games that the kids really enjoyed, and it took a bit of the rowdiness out of the main floor of the library. This required a lot of people to be off the floor, so you have to have the staff for it (obviously the kids were not left unsupervised).

We would kick kids out ALL THE TIME for disobeying rule, usually for the day, but up to a week if the infraction was bad enough. The administration did not like this, but we really saw it as the only way to survive. It helped that this was a "walking neighborhood"; kids usually walked home from school.

We had one or two security guards to help us out. Everyday at 3:30 it was all hands on deck, and we would wander the stacks telling kids to sit down, stop running, quiet down, etc.

We also just had to embrace that this was how it was going to be. Adults would complain, and we would just remind them that this was a public library, and they had the right to be there as well.

It is more than likely that this will never change; you will never work in a quiet, relaxing library as long as you stay there. I worked there for a couple years before going back to school. I could have stayed longer, but I got very tired of the poor support from the administration. They decreased the number of security guards we had, and didn't hire enough people to make our jobs possible.

In conclusion, you have to have your managements support to make this workable. I hope you get it!
posted by afton at 6:24 PM on January 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

It sounds like you're missing a few key pieces that will help alleviate your problem. You may not have any control over these things, but their implementation will very likely help your situation.

First, what is your library's patron code of conduct? Familiarize yourself with, and make sure it is posted prominently in the library. Nobody in their right mind will read it (the loopy daily lurkers will have it memorized in a week, of course) but you will need it to point at every time you lay down the law with a teen. My lib has a three strikes program. The first two strikes get them kicked out for the day. The final strike is given to the patron by the City Librarian in the form of a letter indicating that they are banned for one month and that they must schedule another meeting with her before they can return.

But who gives the strikes? We have dedicated security guards (plainclothes, lumbering, delightfully scary, and impossibly large men with funny accents) who enforce the codes of conduct and handle any patron/patron and lib worker/patron altercations. If you can't stretch for an extra position, maybe you can convince current staff to fill the role in shifts. Maybe you can talk to the school crossing guard and see if they know anyone who'd like to volunteer for the enforcer role. Also, lately we've been hitting up local law enforcement to pick up some watches. They're never really happy about it, but it's hours for them and dollars off our budget. Nothin' like having a cop on hand to quell a teen's rambunctious funtime.

Now, all that's well and good but as you pointed out teens are a breed apart when it comes to following the rules or being courteous to others. Having an area apart for them is a great idea, but you've got to give them a reason to go other than "you can't be here and do that, go over there." This is a super-ideal, but our Teen Zone is behind a closed, locked door buried deep in the center of the library. You can usually still hear them if you listen closely out in the hall, but it's quiet enough. Teens have to sign in with their full name and the purpose of their visit. There are ludicrously over-the-top games for them to play (talking about the latest gaming systems—like I said, ludicrous) and computers for them to surf on and a ridiculously huge television and couches... near the homework desks. There's a dedicated monitor, and a special code of conduct for the room. The monitor is generally a hip college student clerk (ie someone who can relate to the volatile young'uns). If they violate the code the clerk kicks them out of the Teen Zone, and they're kicked out of the library for the day.

Again, this is an ideal situation in my opinion (and even so, not perfect), and my lib spent a considerable amount of moolah to get to where we're at now. You probably can't buy a Wii and a flatscreen, and if you could it's likely you wouldn't have anywhere to put them. But there has to be something to get the kids into their area, something that they can claim as their own. Video games are easily claimed by teens, and so too the venue where they're hosted. There must be some other things you can let them claim that will keep them entertained, contained, and quiet.

Keep in mind that whatever you decide to do it must be systematic and you've gotta stick to it. Inconsistent authority is a wild teen's best friend. "Working with them" won't do much for the majority (as you well know), but if you are clear and consistent about what the expectations are the ones who really care to be in the library after school will shape up and the ones who don't will start going somewhere else. Because you won't let them in anymore.
posted by carsonb at 6:31 PM on January 27, 2010 [3 favorites]

I'm seconding elisabethjw. The rowdy ones do not give a flying fig about a teen area, teen-oriented programs, feeling personally connected, or anything the great world of libraries has to offer. The library is simply close to school and a free place to hang out before they are forced to go home.

You need to kick these kiddos out. Consistently. Anyone who is making a fuss. Don't worry about potentially offending teens who ARE there for honest library going, they're smart enough to know they are welcome. You should also make a call to the principal, and let her/him know your staff absolutely means business. Look at it this way - while you are worried about losing potential future library lovers -- you ARE losing ACTUAL current patrons, who leave like clockwork at the end of school. This is unacceptable.

You've posted anon, so I don't know where you are, but this problem might lessen come spring time. Right now they're looking for someplace indoors out of the cold AND free; the library fits both these criteria. Obviously, this is not a great reason to come to a library.

Stay strong! I salute you, dedicated library employee!!
posted by missmary6 at 6:33 PM on January 27, 2010

The evil part of my brain suggests that you tell your local Marine recruiter that there's a whole lot of teenagers in one place at 3:15 every day.
posted by Etrigan at 6:33 PM on January 27, 2010 [32 favorites]

The local library here has a problem with high school students hanging out on the steps and footpath outside and causing problems for everyone. They seem to have to resolved the issue in part by kicking the noisiest troublemakers out and making the steps an unfriendly place to be by playing some of the most hideous jazz and opera music I think I've ever heard. It's hard to be hip and yakking on your phone to your friends when Paul Robeson is going "Old Man River" at 120 decibels. Needless to say, it's not a fun place to be for regular patrons either, but it is a suggestion.

Even if you don't go the loud music, you might think about some piped music. I believe there were some experiments done in malls where they played light classical music and found that it appeared to cut down anti-social behaviour. Might be worth looking into?
posted by ninazer0 at 6:50 PM on January 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

If they are using the computers, can you shut down the computer of anyone who is misbehaving?
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 6:54 PM on January 27, 2010

We set up a "teen area" in a semi-secluded spot, but they avoid it like the plague. We've always had after-school programs for teens, but they are sparsely attended and we have to stand guard outside the program room so that the kids who *do* show up aren't openly mocked by the other kids.

Here's the problem. Clearly, you have space available and resources to provide programming (bravo), but it's not appealing to the vast majority of your teen patrons. I would follow the advice above on working with the school to set and enforce appropriate behavior expectations (need to call someone's parents? Just email a pic to the school instead), but the real solution here is to take the resources you have already budgeted here to reach teens and to use them in a way that will get them more engaged and into the "teen area" you already have established. If the teen area becomes "the place with the nice couches and video games and computers where the librarians aren't going to hassle us every 5 seconds," people might actually want to go there on a more regular basis, and who knows, they might even pick up a book occasionally. You guys are lucky enough to have the space and money for teen programming, so I would apply that to solving this problem.

Once you actually have a good and usable "welcoming environment" through a revamped teen area, there's absolutely nothing wrong with banning those who are disruptive, because it's not unwelcoming to throw out the troublemakers when you've demonstrated that those who can behave reasonably are welcome. If someone is simply too loud or distracting, you could ask them to move into the teen area where such behavior would be less troublesome. If they refuse, or their behavior is more extreme or violent, they should be asked to leave, the same as any other patron who is disruptive.

During the rest of the day, the "teen area" could easily become a perfect place for storytime with the kids or computer use for regulars so the space and resources doesn't need to be solely dedicated to dealing with the teen issue.
posted by zachlipton at 7:38 PM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

At my local library, there is a police officer there after 3--I am not sure how long he stays, or how he's paid, but it may be worth liaising with the local PD to at least discuss your concerns. The instances you've mentioned--the fire, the punching--go beyond mere disturbance to breaking the law.
posted by thebrokedown at 7:39 PM on January 27, 2010

I'm in a busy urban library too. Plus I worked for a few years in a very violent secondary school. This week is exam week where I am so it was extra crazy tonight. Were we working together? If your management does not have your back then you need to leave. Sorry. Until then, invite the Library Board/city councillors/mayor for a visit, at 3.30. Call the manager (and up the food chain until you get a real person on the line) for every little problem. They don't care about the problem because it is YOUR problem. Make the problem theirs, either they will work on solutions or give you ownership and permission to solve the problem your way. Do you have a union? Now sounds like a good time to start one up so that the collective complaints are heard by management (and try to negotiate danger pay).

Banning (one day the first offence, three months second offence, calling police and pressing charges if they show up during the ban) is the only way to keep a lid on the problem. If there are no consequences why would they change? Throwing food? Then food is only allowed with a librarian's permission beforehand. Having food without permission means they are banned for the day. As they walk in the door have a greeter (someone with a no-bullshit personality) that will stop the rowdiness before it infects the rest of the library and talks to them about any food they are bringing in. Toss them back out at the door if they can't even enter properly. Don't allow furniture to be moved, have tables seat four and ONLY four - no extra chairs allowed. Separate tables so they can't have a large group together. Teens standing around shooting the shit? Tell 'em to sit and work or get out. Figure out the queen bees and alpha males and work them over to your side with extra privileges. If one member of a group is rowdy, throw the whole group out so they will start self-policing. Don't wait for things to escalate, nip the problems in the bud (I know you see them developing and can feel the apprehension in the pit of your stomach). Separate teens that are feeding off each others energy but aren't bannable yet.

Yeah, all this is harsh. But you have to get the upper hand, make fair rules and enforce them and AFTER you get their respect you can let things slide a little. You also have to have the personality (and voice) for it. I love my teens, they are an awesome bunch (all three thousand of them today) but they are a LOT of work. It is okay to recognise this is not what you wanted and find another branch with demographics that suit your skills and ability.
posted by saucysault at 7:53 PM on January 27, 2010 [3 favorites]

I'm the teen specialist for a large urban library system, and I agree with zachlipton. If you have a teen space and teen programs that are not utilized/attended by teens, then you simply aren't giving them what they want. The advice that follows is not tailored to you, because I've never met you or seen your library; however, it addresses issues that I've seen time and time again in public libraries. Take what applies, and ignore the rest:

Learn everyone's name. It will make the library experience more personal for all the kids, making the "good" kids feel more welcome and the "bad" kids more watched.

Be sure you follow the rules you give the teens. If librarians yell at teens to quit yelling, hitting, laughing, looking at naked people on the internet, etc., it is disrespectful. It also shows the teens that they have the power to make you break your own rules. Instead, walk over to the offending parties, address them by their names in a quiet and calm voice and explain what you require of them. If they mock you, cuss at you, ignore you, etc., remain calm and explain again what you require of them and what the consequences will be if they don't comply (shutting off their computer, banning them and their friends for a week, calling the police, etc.). Don't let them see you sweat.

Provide the edgiest programming your administration will allow. Show popular animated series, have a book discussion group about Grace After Midnight, invite local bands/hip-hop artists in to talk to teens about how they got started, have gaming tournaments (even in my poverty-stricken city individual branches were able to get locals to donate gaming equipment. If that doesn't work have staff or teens bring in their own equipment to share) Teens like to draw manga characters, make jewelry, tie dye t-shirts, sing/rap, play games like uno and connect 4, etc.

Provide an alternative. If teens are hanging out somewhere very annoying to staff or patrons explain to them calmly that if they stay there they will be removed, perhaps by the police. If, however, they go to the teen area they can laugh, dance, etc. without consequence.

Keep it light if you can. "Kevin, if you want to punch Keon in the arm you must go outside. You may come back in after you're finished."

Look up teen librarian resources online. There are quite a few blogs and websites with further advice.

It is hard to be a part of the solution. It is easy to give up. Please work hard to provide equal access to everyone in your community - they'll thank you for it someday!!!
posted by lodie6 at 8:06 PM on January 27, 2010 [4 favorites]

I came in to suggest uncool music like classical playing, but I see ninazer0 beat me to it. Seconded then, if it's an option for your library.
posted by yellowbinder at 8:09 PM on January 27, 2010

I teach teens and pre-teens. A lot of good advice already. I want to highlight:

-above all, stay calm but firm! They can smell fear, wishy-washiness, and apathy in adults.

-learning their names.

-getting them to do jobs for you - you can pay them with snacks.

-not tolerating any kind of bad behavior. 1 warning, then if they do it again they are out for the day. This will require you to invest some time and energy up front in watching them for every little thing, but it will pay off over time as they realize that your library isn't a place to go and have wild crazy times.

-the corollary of the above is that once you get rid of the worst offenders, those who remain will behave somewhat better than they did before (and be nicer to you) because they will be missing the worst influence.

-planning programming that appeals to more teens. My kids actually like to read, even the rowdy ones. Form a book group around something they might not read in school, something a little more popular/pulpy (ask them for suggestions). Or teach a web programming class. Or ask them to write recommendations to display next to the books. Get books and magazines they will actually enjoy so they don't just mess around on the computers

-rework your teen area, again with their suggestions. It should have its own computers, be easy to supervise yet semi-secluded, have visually appealing displays of books, magazines, etc., and have comfortable seating. All teens love couches.
posted by mai at 8:33 PM on January 27, 2010

Toss them. Immediately and permanently.

A library is not a community center. Couches, video games, and what have you just encourage people to think of it as one, which is a detriment to the real mission.

I don't know how dedicated you are to this, but if you are, I'd push your management, the town, the schools, and maybe even the teens themselves, to advocate for a proper community center where kids can hang out and not be a bother to anyone but themselves.
posted by madajb at 10:37 PM on January 27, 2010 [5 favorites]

I'd recommend a combination of speaking with school representatives (as suggested above), coupled with all unaccompanied minors between certain hours having to show a library card and ID that match the card (and obviously themselves) in order to get access to the library at all (not just to take out books.)

Agreed that making it more hospitable to the teens (couches and whatnot) is fabulous if you have well-behaved teens, but that is not what you have.
posted by davejay at 11:39 PM on January 27, 2010

How big is the group? How big are the sub-groups? I had success at my branch with getting to know names, constant chatting to the amenable ones and always acknowledging them even if they weren't the amenable ones. I spoke to the occasional parent but that was exceedingly rare. Revoking internet access and asking them to leave in a consistent and constant way helped start the process of integrating the teens into the life of the library. As I got to know them, they got to know me. They got to know what we were offering them. They began self-policing. We began to get more teens in. We began running successful programs. The other branches still had the same issues, still had the same stupid fights. We got to the point that teens rarely caused a problem - we were much more likely to be breaking up a fight between two old guys over the newspaper than having to talk to teenagers about their behaviour.

Of course, that's pretty much impossible if you don't have any of the team dedicated to teen services.

So my advice is: learn names and use them, constant contact, talk to parents/teachers if necessary, work with what they're using (if it's space, the internet, magazines, whatever just use it as a method of connecting with them and making their use of the library something more to them than it currently is) and make sure the entire staff is on the same page. If you've got some staff ignoring them because they're scary, you've got no chance of actually controlling the situation. And it will ALWAYS be something you need to do. Always. Like the inevitable newspaper fights. You may get to a point where you aren't putting out fires, but you certainly still need to be clearing the underbrush.

Couches, video games, and what have you just encourage people to think of it as one, which is a detriment to the real mission.

So tell me, what is the real mission? Our mission statement explicitly states that we are a community hub and somewhere people can meet and read and learn and undertake some recreation and relaxation. And oddly enough, people includes teens and children. Couches, games and comfort aren't just for teens.
posted by geek anachronism at 1:17 AM on January 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

Work with the school principal to come up with a solution. I understand it is a major problem on your part but getting security and/or police involved is overkill unless the teens are violent or destructive, as sometimes is the case. If you come up with a solution with the school to give detentions to the worst offenders, I'm sure problems will drop immediately.
posted by JJ86 at 6:02 AM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

i can't tell you how much this sounds like my home town in illinois! between grad school and getting a job, i was at home for a few weeks and spent quite some time at the library. the one by the high school and the freshment center was ALWAYS loud or full of entitled adults who felt they could talk on their cell phones. the library branch downtown was much quieter but less equipped technology-wise. as a patron, i was definitely pissed.

if it's demoralizing to you, i would recommend gathering all the other employees who feel the same. work together to let the management know you cannot perform your duties in a space where you don't feel supported. definitely contact the school management, even if it is on your own.

i like the idea of a teen center; it's rare in the suburbs for teens to be able to find a space for themselves that is not their parents' house. as a teen, my friends and i wandered about cafes and such, but couldn't really afford buying those coffee drinks in order to stay. while the library should NOT become a sort of rowdy haven, i think it's perfectly acceptable for it to be a community hub for teens who can respect it for what it is.
posted by mlo at 6:10 AM on January 28, 2010

I kind of assumed that the OP was in an urban area, but that is probably because I live in an urban area, and the teens that the OP describes sound exactly like the teens in my neighborhood.

Anyways I am surprised that nobody has suggested one of those ultra high frequency noise generators that they will be able to hear but adults cannot. When they are acting up turn that thing all the way up until they leave or quiet down.

(This may or may not be legal, IANAL)
posted by BobbyDigital at 6:56 AM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

My (otherwise strikingly similar) experience was with middle school kids. Hopefully this will help, but YMMV:
  • Learn their names. As many as you can. Nothing gets their attention quite like a stern, loud voice calling them out in front of their friends. Additionally, nothing gets their respect like feeling that you know them.
  • It's ok to have a hair trigger when it comes to kicking them out for the day. I usually warn once, then boot. No exceptions.
  • Longer expulsions should be used sparingly and only for very clear infractions.
  • Don't be a douche when they're not being bad. Once they decide you just don't like them and/or you're going to pick on them all the time no matter what they do, nothing you say will register with them again. I know only too well how hard it can be to smile and help a kid who usually makes your afternoons miserable, but you have to do it.
Good luck!
posted by willpie at 7:32 AM on January 28, 2010

And everything Geek Anachronism said.
posted by willpie at 7:34 AM on January 28, 2010

It seems to me that if the teens who DO want use the library programs are being "openly mocked" by the rowdy ones and the library staff has to "stand guard" to protect these teens, then that right there is a ready-made reason, to bring to the management, to kick out the troublemakers. The library management is making the library an UNwelcome place for those who WANT to use the library and a WELCOME place for those that destroy library property, etc. Maybe if the management can be made to see it under those terms, they might hire a guard or support you in bringing some discipline and order.
posted by molasses at 7:51 AM on January 28, 2010 [5 favorites]

Toss them. Immediately and permanently. A library is not a community center. Couches, video games, and what have you just encourage people to think of it as one, which is a detriment to the real mission.

I don't know where you live madajb, but especially in many urban areas, the library is the de-facto local community center, homeless shelter, mental health clinic, social services office, internet cafe, adult daycare, childcare, and yes, teen center, generally because there simply aren't other places for them to go.

I'm no librarian, so feel free to ignore me if you like (but I like libraries, know a lot of librarians, and have had a man removed from the library and referred to the mental health van for beginning to systematically eat his way through the periodicals room while sitting at the table across from mine), but it seems that many libraries have embraced their role and try, when shrinking budgets and space allow, to offer programming that appeals to their many different audiences. Some patrons want a pin-drop quiet space dedicated to the scholarly study of texts. Others want services from the library in a different sort of environment. The library is for everyone. The changing library of today often tries to allow for a wide range of patrons in a wide range of spaces and activities, many of which do not involve complete silence.

Obviously, there is behavior that is unacceptable in a library or other public place, such as fighting, shouting, vandalism, etc... If this occurs, yes, ban the teens responsible as you would any other patron engaged in such behavior, but permanently banning the teens is not the right answer. The hardest part is getting them in the door, and your solution to the fact that they came in is to ban them? After you ban them, how likely is it that they come back for help with their research papers or even bring their own kids to the library someday? At least when they're inside, a few of them might just learn something when they least suspect it.

Welcome them, give them space and both formal and informal programing the appeals to them, help them move and adjust behavior to minimize the extent to which they bother others, set clear expectations around unacceptable behavior, and then only then boot the bad apples who fight or vandalize or are otherwise crossing the line in a big way.

You may want to see the ALA's Talking Points for Advocating for Teens in the Library.
posted by zachlipton at 8:34 AM on January 28, 2010

2 things to do:

1. Raise your fist like an old man shakintg it at the offenders.

If #1 doesn't work,

2. Call the non-emergency number for your local police, tell them about the situation, and ask if an on-duty officer can come to the library at 3:15 for 5-10 minutes for a few days.

Your problem will clear right up.

But umm...the rowdy kids are going to the library...and you're hating on that? Come on now...
posted by hal_c_on at 11:34 AM on January 28, 2010

You could always purchase the Mosquito.
posted by MikeHarris at 6:07 PM on January 28, 2010

I'm fond of the idea of getting a friendly neighborhood biker gang to help police things during peak teen hours, although the earlier recommendation of getting a Marine or two could also do the trick. Even if it's a commonplace occurrence nationally, the notion of rebellious anti-establishment teenagers hanging out at the local library just seems odd.

The idea of playing artsy-fartsy music sounds good, although it could seem like such an obvious sudden attempt to curb the teens' behavior, that they'll just be amused by the whole thing and continue on with their ways. Either there are other clever ways to "dork things up" to the extent that they're either too annoyed or too embarrassed to be caught dead there, or there are ways to make them feel welcomed enough that they start showing more respect to the staff and other patrons.

Part of me thinks they're just knuckle-dragging mouth-breathing punks that oughta just be banned, and another makes me think they're just products of a trouble home. Could a couple of dogs be brought into the teen area from time to time? Even snot-nosed brats like dogs, right? Or maybe someone could provide rock guitar lessons, that sorta thing?
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 10:49 PM on January 28, 2010

I don't know where you live madajb, but especially in many urban areas, the library is the de-facto local community center, homeless shelter, mental health clinic, social services office, internet cafe, adult daycare, childcare, and yes, teen center, generally because there simply aren't other places for them to go.

Sure, I completely understand. It's like that where I am as well.
But that doesn't make it right or proper.

It's just a way for governments to get out of building proper facilities and amenities for their youth.
"Hey, we don't need a community center, the kids all go to the library!"

It doesn't help the teens, and it's certainly not helping the OP.
Which is why I suggested what I did, otherwise the kids will just continue to get dumped in the library, and the OP will continue to get half the resources and none of the support to deal with them.
posted by madajb at 12:01 PM on January 29, 2010

As a former high school and public librarian -- Nthing a couple of suggestions:

Talk to the school -- you might not get a lot of support, but try it.
Talk to the trustees, superintendents, board members, and city councilors (or whatever they're called in your district -- I mean the elected officials -- of both the schools and the libraries) and make them aware of the problem. Or have your admin do it, if that would be more effective. Invite them to come out and observe.

Don't be the bad guy yourself. Get security to throw them out (proactively, not just on your request or referral). It's more effective, puts less mental strain on you, and you might be able to remain the friendly one. It is very wearing to have to constantly discipline.

Agree with madajb that you are suffering from the delinquencies of your community at large. Do not get caught up in the guilt trip of "you're not providing them with the right programming."

This is an everlasting problem, and the library literature pretty much divides just as this page has.

Whatever you do, you must have administration's support or you'll fail.
If you can't get it, transfer -- for your own mental health.
posted by feelinggood at 10:10 AM on January 31, 2010

I used to take college courses in the basement of my local library as well as be involved with the teen programs they had. They often had a group of "street kids" that came in to hang out, but some of those kids were involved with the teen program too.

Basically, we had this program wherein teens managed, wrote, and published (with the slight help of an adult who worked for the library for this purpose) their own pamphlet/magazine. They wrote book, comic book, movie, cd, and game reviews. There was satire about this or that random thing. There was a section for poetry and an annual poetry contest (in which, btw, any and all topics were allowed), and the writing in this magazine, while of course not allowed to be comprised completely of curse words like some graffiti, was given quite a liberal amount of freedom in its speech. The teens also decorated their "hangout spot", adults weren't allowed to really sit in there, and quiet was enforced through a "we respect you, you respect us" mentality. There were also the usual teen-only arts n crafts days every couple weeks, sometimes they'd all get together and go to movies, etc.

If your teen programs are only about "let's make this bracelet or clay pot" or "let's review this book", you might need to spice it up, break it down, let them build it up themselves. A feigned "whatever shall we do - we need volunteers to paint the teen room with graffiti" or pulling a local rapper/beat poet (who will may, I repeat -may-, do these things out of kindness if they hear are probably up to no good either way) might make your library moderately "cool".

Build up some cred.
posted by DisreputableDog at 1:56 PM on October 24, 2010

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