It’s been a couple of weeks now that we’ve had kids coming in afterschool again, so the brief calm (some say “dead”) time after our Summer Reading Program ended is now at a close, and every year it takes time to adjust to the switch from constant programming to providing more individualized service to our young patrons. They are in a transition time too, adjusting to a new school year. This is especially important to remember when a new crop of afterschool kids starts to make regular appearances from 3:30 to 5:30 pm. every day and let’s just say they haven’t quite gotten “library appropriate” behavior down.
At our library, most days we have an average of 20 to 30 visitors in the afternoon. Most of these visitors are middle school students. They want to unwind after a long day at school. That means talking, giggling, stealing each other’s cell phones, gossiping about who likes who, and chasing each other. I can sympathize with their need to unwind, but I also must make sure that the library, a public place for everyone, is a useful place for all our patrons. So, how to do this is the question.
School teachers refer to the business of getting their students to settle into the school day as, “classroom management.” Good classroom management is a vital component of ensuring a high functioning classroom. At the library we need to ensure that people who come in can get what they need out of their visit, so it is similar. We want a “high functioning” library. There is a difference here though, and that is that we are not our patron’s teacher and they are not compelled to come to the library. These are distinct advantages.
The other day, I had a patron who, on his way out, let fly some bookmarks from the staircase balcony onto the youth services floor. The next day I had him help me put library name labels onto the backs of bookmarks that we give away. Another young patron hid his friend’s backpack and the friend was very upset and couldn’t find it for a long time. The next day the backpack hiding boy helped me to straighten up the books on the book shelves. These young library patrons do not have to do the tasks I have them do as consequences. They do them because we have a different relationship than a teacher or a parent and they want to be at the library.
I never threaten them, yell at them, or shame them. I calmly explain that this is what they need to do and I do it with them. As we work together, we build our relationship one-on-one. Does it always work? No. But it is my job as their librarian to try to build this relationship so that I can continue to be their librarian and provide the service that I signed on to do.
Oh, and by-the-way, sometimes we play catchphrase or do a quick origami project too. The consequence of that is that we establish a balance between work and play; and between seriousness and fun. It’s going to be a great year.