What is “our job” vs. “our responsibility?”

You get a phone call from someone that tells you their son/daughter is skipping school and they want to know if they are at your library. You get a phone call from someone that claims they are the mother/father of a teen that ran away from home and they have a search warrant from an officer to prove it. Someone claiming to be a parent comes into your library and says, “I want to know if my son/daughter has been in your library today.”

How do you respond and why?

Do we automatically trust the person on the phone or that the person at the desk is indeed the parent of who they say they are? How much responsibility do we need to take on to determine that? We trust an adult who says who they are yet at the same time we often teach teens on social networking sites such as MySpace to not trust most anyone they meet online? What is it about someone that says they are the parent of a teen (if you really don’t know) that we believe them? Or is that not usually the case?

I look to the column series in VOYA, How can we help? Particularly Lynn Evarts, The School Library as Sanctuary, (http://tinyurl.com/2b6wyw), December 2006 where she talks about reaching out to teens that might seek the library as a place of comfort. If I hear about a teen running away, my automatic response in my head is that, maybe they left a bad situation, how can I as a librarian give them the tools to get them out of that situation? ‘Get them out’ not necessarily meaning they need to be in contact with the police, but ‘get them out’ in a way that gives them some choice and responsibility to take care of themselves. I think that by automatically trusting the adult that comes to us, negates any possible relationship we can build with a teen, even if it might only be for five minutes.

While I am not saying that librarians have some special connection with teens that security and police can never possibly have, I am saying that we do have a way we can connect with teens. What if we give them resources of local runaway shelters that may be able to work with them, because like with the police, and with library security, we have made a connection with people that work with teens? We know where those shelters are in town. Staff at the shelters know us by name when we call them because we have made it a point to visit them and explain why. What if that could make all the difference? What if that would make the job of a police person easier? What if we can do our jobs and fulfill our responsibilities at the same time and most important, give the teen back the control of their life that they probably need most right now?

This is why I think it is good for people to have an appreciation and maybe even an understanding of playing video games-especially those who make policy for our libraries. It’s about understanding there are other options. It’s about not being afraid to take risks if a risk for your organization might mean putting some muscle behind the core values of your library that you already have established and available on your web site.

Posted by Kelly Czarnecki

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Kelly Czarnecki

Kelly Czarnecki is a Teen Librarian at ImaginOn with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. She is a member of the YALSA blog advisory board.

2 thoughts on “What is “our job” vs. “our responsibility?””

  1. This is a perfect example of why libraries need to build collaborative relationships with organizations and agencies in the community. If you have those relationships before a call like this comes through, you either already know how to respond and/or know whom to call at a specific agency to talk about how to respond.

    Also, this is definitely something that a librarians need to talk to administration about before it happens. All staff need to know how to respond to a situation like this. It can’t be that some staff handle it one way and other staff handle it another.

  2. and that admin know the difference between abiding by a law and the need for making a policy. And that those making the policies, know what the laws are regarding mandated reporting, etc. Policies to be written in ways that allow people to think for themselves but still follow the law.

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