Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Library Policy on Unattended Children

As a child, I spent a lot of time at the school libraries and at the public library. I wasn't always directly supervised, although my mother was usually in the building. (When we visited the public library, I was with her and often my younger sister, because we were too young to travel there by ourselves.)

I have no idea whether there was a formal policy on unattended children for our small town library, or what ages were considered mature enough to visit without adult supervision. I spent plenty of hours in the children's room and the juvenile/YA stacks, though, and I never got into trouble. Usually I'd browse the shelves long enough to fill a plastic bucket with books, then check them out, and sit down to read while waiting for my mom and sister. Happy reader!

So I've been surprised recently to find out that many public libraries have concerns about children who are unsupervised and/or disruptive -- not always both. Sometimes it's just that school-aged children are in the library "alone" that's enough to call for stricter policies about age, and that doesn't make sense to me. If the kids are well-behaved and using the library for its intended purpose (education, entertainment, community gathering space... not daycare), why bar their access?

Having followed with interest several conversations about whether public library policies are too restrictive when it comes to the age of visitors allowed to use the library, I made sure to check out the relevant information at Chicago Public Library, my internship site.

Parents may not leave children under age 7 unattended in the library. Disruptive children, attended or unattended, age 7 or older may be asked to leave the library after one warning.
Parents are responsible for the behavior of their children in the library, whether or not the parent is present.

This, to me, is a sensible middle ground: seven years old is a much more reasonable cut-off than 10 or 11, as called out in the Free-Range Kids posts. Younger children (especially preschoolers) are expected to be supervised by their caretakers, while older ones are treated like adult library patrons if they become disruptive -- warned once and then asked to leave. The procedures outlined below the policy statement cover the case of a disruptive child who is in the company of an adult -- which can certainly happen! -- as well as what happens when a young child is found unsupervised. (Call me crazy, but I have a suspicion that a well-behaved 6- or 7-year-old reading in the corner would probably fly under the radar. And that's fine by me.)

What do you think about children using the public library without their parents? How old is old enough? Care to share a particularly positive or negative experience?

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