Back to (After)School – Building a Positive Environment with a Library Afterschool Crowd – Part 2

This two-part piece looks at ways to manage large afterschool crowds in a library. To read about ways to build relationships and empathy, manage noise levels and energy, and work effectively with staff from other departments, see Part 1. This post discusses behavior and discipline.

To keep things fair, orderly, and predictable in a busy library, consistency is key.  At Addison Public Library, Elizabeth Lynch has found great success using a system called Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS). She says, “The core of PBIS is…that kids really don’t know what appropriate behavior is, especially in a public setting. So the focus is to educate them on what expectations are and think about the systems we’re creating and whether that’s giving them the support they need in the space, or whether we’re making it impossible or difficult for them.”

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PBIS is not only a philosophy, but also involves a set of clearly-defined rules, consequences, and instructions for staff. These are discussed in the sections below. Having clear and explicit rules helps teens learn what appropriate behavior is, and creates consistency in staff responses to troublemaking. It also reduces friction among staff, since everyone is operating under the same rules about what is appropriate and how to respond to infractions.

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Back to (After)School – Building a Positive Environment with a Library Afterschool Crowd – Part 1

 

For some libraries, back to school is more like back to the zoo.

If your public library is in walking distance of a middle or high school, chances are you have what’s known as an “afterschool crowd”–a term uttered as often with alarm as it is with affection. While large groups of teens coming to the library is a gift and incredible opportunity, it can often leave library staff feeling out of control and create friction between Young Adult Services staff and staff from other departments, particularly those who value peace and quiet.IMG_6035 (960x1280)

While I was working on my Master’s of Library and Information Science, I had the pleasure of working for Elizabeth Lynch, the Teen Services Coordinator at Addison Public Library in Illinois. Every day, 60 to 120 kids troop across the street from Indian Trail Middle School to the library in a wave that calls to mind the Invasion of Normandy. The kids are hungry, chatty, sometimes cranky, and full of pent-up energy. Many come from low-income families and their parents work. The library is a safe place for them to stay until they can be picked up.

How do we provide these teens with education, fun, safety, and positive socialization—and keep them from damaging eardrums, property, or our relationships with other patrons and staff? I’ve drawn on my own experiences and advice from Lynch to offer some ideas.

In this post, we will discuss ways to build relationships and empathy, manage noise levels and energy, and work effectively with staff from other departments in your library. In Part 2, we will discuss behavior and discipline.

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Teen Behavior and Participation in Libraries

LJ Opinion Polls
I am a little delayed reporting on this as I struggle to be diplomatic, but I’m wondering… what kind of message does it send to our profession when Library Journal (Reed Business), publishes an opinion poll focusing on negative teen behavior in libraries?

Online polls about library issues have come under scrutiny before. In February 2005, American Libraries, in a poll via its January 25 issue of AL Direct, “Should ALA Council pass a resolution condemning the Cuban government for its imprisonment of dissident ‘independent librarians?'” was viewed as an “[Intervention] in the business of the Association.”

The great thing about LJ and AL polls is that they do become an opportunity for discussion. A brief discussion on the YALSA-BK listservs had librarians divided on the fairness of the poll. “Our big problems aren’t the teens, it is adults that give us behavior problems at times,” wrote one YA librarian. “I don’t have adults who poke holes in the furniture, shout, shove, and throw things across the room,” contradicted another, generating a lively conversation about patron behavior and serving the underserved.

The poll, although vague, does reflect the negative view of teens held by many adults, patrons AND librarians. The lack of support from administration for librarians working with teens, coupled with the behavior issues and poor attitude from fellow staff, seems to result in burnout. One librarian suggested that “Teen Librarians and Burnout” would be a great research project. There’s money available for research in the field, and I’d say this qualifies as a “Professional Problem,” which is a criteria for the the
Frances Henne / YALSA / VOYA Research Grant
. For more details, please visit the YALSA handbook to see YALSA’s Research Agenda, or consider applying for the Henne. Perhaps a YALSA member needs to create their own poll about behavior of all kinds, from patrons of all ages, and how it is dealt with and perceived by all staff.

A Quick Plug for SUS Trainers
Don’t forget, sometimes when you are making the case for teen services (or just arguing that they are valid and valuable patrons), it helps for the staff to hear it from someone else, even after all you’ve done to become the teen expert in your community. Ask someone at another branch, from another town, or even an SUS trainer to deliver a workshop on specific aspects of teen services. From the YALSA web site: “The subjects … include adolescent development, reading interests, behavioral problems, youth participation, facilities, and computer services for teens. The trainers have been trained to work with adult learners and are experts in the specialized field of young adult services.”

This week’s poll, perhaps in an effort to back peddle, focuses on teen participation, a core of library service to young adults. Teen participation is a terrific solution to teen behavioral issues: give them the opportunity to participate and it allows for relationship building, community building, and a sense of ownership that results in fewer behavior problems. As of noon today, 29.73% of librarians do have Teen Advisory Boards, 35.14% get teen feedback on ideas, and 35.14% do neither. The questions are clumsy – presumably, the purpose OF a Teen Advisory Board is to solicit teen feedback – why ask their opinion if you are not going to follow through?

Perhaps that’s a topic for another post.

~posted by Beth Gallaway