Sometimes I furtively drink coffee at the circulation desk.
I’ve seen students photocopying school textbooks, and I’ve looked the other way.
More than once, I’ve kept the library open well past five o’clock–without kicking any students out or writing the extra minutes on my timesheet.
In short, I’m a library outlaw.
I don’t like being a disciplinarian. I don’t imagine most librarians do–as a former boss once said, we prefer to write everything on tiny signs and then act very put-upon when no one reads the sign. That’s an exaggeration, of course, but I’ve yet to meet a librarian who just adores confrontation.
So it’s hard to be a school librarian. Or a public librarian, for that matter. Both are filled with hierarchies and rules, some reasonable, some arcane. When you work with young people, it’s especially hard–how do you teach kids to respect authority and the rules if you’re breaking them yourself?
It’s extremely dangerous to break (or bend) rules because you just don’t like them. You’re not being a team player, you’re making other people look bad, and you’re running the risk of, oh, I don’t know, getting fired. What might be more productive? Talking about the rules. Start a dialogue. Ask why they’re there in the first place. Explain your point of view.
Most of my personal rule-bending has to do more with my non-confrontational nature, but I’m also trying to actively notice what does and doesn’t work with my students. Some clearly respond poorly to being disciplined in front of their peers, so I make an effort to have more private discussions. Some balk whenever they’re approached by an authority figure, so I try to change my language and get them to see things from a different point of view.
And, as always, it’s crucial to pick your battles. Should I be more concerned with the student who’s answering a quick call from her mother, or the student whose phone is blasting the entire library with hip-hop? It’s important to not play favorites, but it’s also important to be able to have relationships with individual students. Let them know that trust and respect are a two-way street.
For me, rule-bending is mostly about finding alternatives to the Ms. Trunchbull approach. If I can get teens to think about their behavior and understand the library rules without making them hate me, why wouldn’t I?
So how do you walk the rules tightrope in your library?