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.”
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.
A Common Language Fosters Clear and Consistent Rules
Lynch and the staff of Addison Public Library all use a common set of well-defined terms to refer to specific behaviors. This allows for easy communication among staff and with teen patrons, who become familiar with the terms over time. “Using the same words will establish consistency and authority,” an Addison staff document on common language states. “We are making a clear statement that the same response can be expected no matter what staff member is here.”
Here is an example from Addison Public Library of language to use when giving out warnings for inappropriate behavior:
“There are a few phrases that will identify escalating behaviors and make our response to further behavior predictable.
This is your first warning. When you identify your response is a warning, you let patrons know that their behavior is officially recognized and that the system will be used.
This is your 2nd warning. If we have to talk to you again, we will ask you to leave for the day. When moving to a Level 3 response, it is essential that you let the patron know that the next step is a one day ban.”
Clearly Define Inappropriate Behaviors and Their Consequences
Lynch assigns infractions a level from 1-9 indicating severity. Minor infractions fall in levels 1-4 and may include horseplay, offensive language, noise, and food policy violations. Major infractions, levels 4-9, include repeated offenses, disrespecting staff, violent physical contact, and bullying. Extreme infractions, level 9, include possession of a weapon, false 911 calls, and intoxication or drug possession.
Each level has a set staff response. The levels are: 1. Educate; 2. Warning; 3. Second warning with consequence; 4. 1-day ban; 5. 1-week ban; 6. 1-month ban; 7. 3-month ban; 8 1-year ban; 9. Call the police.
With these rules, staff can work together instead of contradicting one another. Teens can learn what consequences to expect and modify their behavior in the future.
No one likes to be made to feel like dirt. It sounds obvious enough, but in times of anger or high emotion, it’s easy to turn one event into sweeping generalizations about a person’s character. When teens misbehave, keep it in perspective. “It’s about how they’re behaving on this day,” says Lynch. “We’re not saying they’re good kids or bad kids. Don’t take it personally. It’s not about us. It’s all about where they’re at that moment of that day.”
Don’t Forget, You’re Doing Good
Having an afterschool crowd can be exhausting. Some teen services staff may be discouraged, feeling that they are serving as babysitters rather than librarians and library workers. There will be that one teen who doesn’t respond to anything you do to try to form a relationship and correct her misbehavior. There will be that one staff member who continues to display an obvious distaste for dealing with teens. Some days, you will feel tired or sick or distracted or unmotivated.
But afterschool crowds bring their library staff a lot of joy, as well. I formed some of the best relationships with patrons I have ever had while working with afterschool crowds. It was so rewarding to see the same teens day after day, and watch them grow and change. I felt fulfilled in the knowledge that I was a constant in these teens’ lives, and that they saw me as a role model, a source of advice, and a friendly ear. Don’t forget that many of your fellow teen services staff in other libraries have to work hard to get even a few teens in the door.
When you’re down, think of where these teens would be if they didn’t have the library. Where would they go? What would they spend their afterschool time doing? What kind of people would they become involved with? Who would they go to for that advice, that role model?
You have been given the opportunity to make an enormous positive impact on teens’ lives. Embrace it, enjoy it, and make good use of it.