Flossmoor Public Library Struggles with "Rowdy" Tweens and Teens; Relaxes ID Policy

When Flossmoor Public Library (IL) initiated a new policy requiring tweens and teens to show student ID in order to use the library, the response from the library community was swift and largely negative. Now, administrators are taking a second look at the policy and figuring out more equitable ways to manage their boisterous young patrons.
When Flossmoor (IL) Public Library (FPL)  initiated a new policy requiring tweens and teens to show student ID in order to use the library, the response from the library community was swift and largely negative. Now, administrators are taking a second look at the policy and figuring out more equitable ways to manage their boisterous young patrons. Flossmoor, IL, is a small village of a little over 9,000 people just west of the Indiana-Illinois border, sandwiched between highways, near a large concert venue and some significantly larger towns. The library is within walking distance from most of the schools, including local middle and high schools. In mid-December, FPL increased its visibility—not geographically, but in the professional library scope. It came  under fire for policies governing library use by tweens and teens. It started when  FPL's youth department, which serves birth–12th grade, found itself with a problem: it suddenly had more youth visitors than they could handle. Staff experienced burnout, and the issue eventually went to their Board of Trustees. The teen space, with a capacity of 51 people, had 40–70-plus kids hanging out at one time, according to FPL director Aaron Carlin. This area, designed in 2002 before “the ultramodern ideal that public libraries are no longer completely silent environments,” was not built to insulate sound and created “a large noise disruption that spreads throughout the entire building,” explains Carlin. Volume control wasn’t the only problem. Loud talking escalated to occasional swearing, harassment of members and staff, and roughhousing. To curb the issues, the library hired an in-house library monitor and increased staff presence from other departments from  2:30–6:00 p.m. The library also expanded programming and offered something nearly every day. Administrators for local schools also stopped by daily. These changes improved the situation slightly. Middle and high school users were asked to leave after their third daily volume or behavioral offense. Ejections escalated to a total of 189 since April 2017. However, FPL’s responses to the crowding weren't enough to smooth the tensions of other library users, Carlin says. Patrons voiced their opinion through surveys, suggestion box comments, and board meetings. A decision had to be made—thus the announcement of the new student ID policy. On December 18, the library shared a statement directed toward the parents of youth library users regarding a new planned policy about student IDs: “Beginning this January 2018 semester, our Library Board has decided to implement a process to require all students sixth grade and up to sign in at the Youth/Teen desk with their student ID. If they have lost their ID, please help them to gain another before they return to school in January 2018. The purpose of having students sign in with their student ID is to establish accountability and a means of identification should we need to approach a student for misbehavior, the exact same reason the ID’s are used at their schools. Allowing them to circumvent this protocol prevents our best efforts to maintain a pleasant environment for all the many other users and thus students sixth grade and up may not be allowed in the Library without their ID. We will of course explore options for those who lose their student ID or for homeschoolers who have none to begin with to access the Library.” But shortly after the announcement, library professionals shared and commented through social media, admonishing FPL that the policy was in violation of the American Library Association's Library Bill of Rights. Louisville Librarian Calliope Woods commented on Twitter that the policy turned youth staff “into narcs instead of people that [kids] trust.” The general consensus was that this policy deterred library use and made the library an unwelcome environment for young users, not to mention a logistical nightmare for enforcement. FPL did not respond to any of these comments online. But, in a press statement sent to SLJ, Carlin explained that FPL had revised the policy to allow kids without IDs to use the library. “We also recognize the perception of the limit to access for youth that some vocal online channels have expressed. Yet even without that outcry, we know our mission is still one of providing access to information and resources to all. So within the parameters we’re setting up, we have options that would allow someone without a student ID to still have access to the library such as homeschoolers, undocumented youths, or even new students using our facility that haven’t received an ID yet.” Carlin did not elaborate as to what those options were. Carlin added, “Sometimes you can be caught in a difficult situation for so long and desperate for a solution that when an idea is suggested, in that moment of the suggestion, you might be more willing to embrace something unorthodox.” As the new policy got closer to implementation, FPL's leadership team began to question their decision and search for alternatives. Just in time for the execution of their ID policy, library administrators changed direction and opened up their lower meeting room for teen use. Teens are welcome to eat snacks, play games, and be louder than in the traditional teen space, which is still open for quiet studying. “We’re understaffed, but I’m committed to showing everyone that we can make this work,” Carlin says. At this time, FPL doesn’t intend to go forward with the controversial ID policy and future plans include the addition of a more youth-friendly space in an eventual renovation, according to Carlin.
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Alice Mikos

What a challenge! I applaud the staff for finding other solutions, but I understand how challenging the additional "patrons" can be when there seems to be no accountability for their behavior. Even as patrons, you cannot afford them the luxury of turning the library into a space that other patrons no longer wish to use. Clearly the town has a need for safe places for teens after school. Perhaps the library can work with the City Council or the Chamber of Commerce or the school district. Our high school has many after school activities (beyond sports) to provide reasonable alternatives.

Posted : May 18, 2018 01:31


David

It feels to me like they were overthinking the issue. If patrons (of any age) are being disruptive, we ask them to stop. If they don't, they are asked to leave. If they come repeatedly and disturb the library, they will eventually get suspended or banned. Why it would be any different for teen patrons, I don't understand. Surely they already had a policy to deal with this. They just need to have the will to enforce it.

Posted : May 18, 2018 01:13

SH

The issue wasn't kicking the teens out, but even if it was teens and adults are vastly different developmentally. The issue was the library wanted to "require all students sixth grade and up to sign in at the Youth/Teen desk with their student ID." They would never do that with adults, or any other group of people. It's not the right way to handle the situation and doesn't help the relationship with the teens.

Posted : May 18, 2018 01:13


Victor Lee

I share the Librarian's pain. It's the same here in my Middle School Library. I had to resort to a sign-in sheet at the start of the new year and limit the amount of kids entering the venue to no more than 30 patrons.

Posted : May 18, 2018 12:34

Alice Mikos

I view the public librarian's position to be more complicated than the school librarian's position. Schools have rules AND the ability to enforce them along with all the parental contact information. Schools have options for consequences besides just "evicting" noisy or inappropriate students. Schools also have the responsibility to teach appropriate behavior. Schools can brainstorm with students on what it is that they want when they come to the library, if it is not books and reading. A solution can be found by working with the students and administration. Unless students are grossly exceeding the capacity in a school library, I do everything possible before preventing students to enter. By creating before and lunch time chess, origami, and drawing options, our library was also too noisy during free time. By mingling with students, greeting them warmly, and speaking to them individually about their engagement in library activities, we were able to bring the library back to a space that all users could appreciate. It is not absolutely quiet, but for tween and teen students, it doesn't have to be. By remembering who our patrons are, and what works for them, even though we had to make some adaptations, we are a much happier school library.

Posted : May 18, 2018 12:34


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