A few years ago I was early for a workshop I was going to lead at New York Public Library's Teen Central (when it was at the Donnell Branch). I knew about the Teen Central policy regarding adult use of the space. Adults can look for books and get help from a librarian, but they can't sit at a table to work, read, etc. Yet, even though I knew about that policy, I also knew that I was friendly with several of the librarians that worked at Teen Central and thought they would waive the rules for me. (Which really wasn't appropriate at all.)
When I arrived at Teen Central, of course, none of the staff members that I knew were working. I took a chance anyway and sat down at a table, took out my computer, and started to work. The staff person on duty walked over to me pretty quickly and told me that the library's policy is that adults can't "hang out" in the teen room. Adults are welcome to browse the collection, get help from librarians, and when their browsing and information gathering is done they need to leave.
The staff member did her job. I told her that I was leading a workshop in about an hour but that I did understand the rule and I was definitely willing to pick up my stuff and leave. She was right, I wasn't. (By sitting down I really put her in a bad and unfair position.) And, I did leave because I did understand and agreed with the rule.
I'm writing about this because recently there's been some discussion on Twitter about teen only library policies and whether or not they are fair to the non-teens in the community. Some things perhaps to consider when thinking about these policies as they relate to space:
- Do teens need a space of their own that they feel comfortable in - space where they can hang out and be themselves without lots of adult eyes perhaps judging them and complaining about the noise levels and what can seem to some adults as inappropriate library behavior.
- Adults often find that teen spaces in libraries are really comfortable and they tend to take over. Sitting in the chairs, listening to the music, etc. As a result do teens end up having to give up the space since it's no longer their own?
- Adults should be able to browse through materials in the teen collection, and get help, but if they sit down and read and do work then there is less space for teens in the library. There is usually a lot of space in libraries in which adults can sit. Not so much space for teens. Once adults get what they need from a teen space, can't they take their materials and information and go to all of the other spaces available to them?
Once I got to know the teen librarian that spoke to me about my attempt to work in Teen Central, I asked her if it was difficult to come up to me and ask me to re-locate. She said it wasn't and the reason was that she knew the library administration supported the policy of teen only space in the library. And, she supported the policy as well, knowing that teens deserve and need library space that they can all their own.
So, whose space is teen space? What do readers think?