September 1, 2009: @ the library
As if a switch had been flipped, the weather, the calendar, and the school year all changed to a new page this week. A new crop of seventh graders walked down the hill to the library after school yesterday, which inspires an annual “what’s expected of your child” column.
For many of Radford’s children, middle school is the beginning of a new level of freedom. They are allowed to wander free after school because Radford lacks a mandatory connection between school and home by way of school bus. Here, bus riding is optional and fee-based, so when the doors lock after school at Dalton Intermediate School and Radford High School, children who are not quite teenagers become independent agents. Their parents may have told them to go to the public library and wait until they get off work several hours later and are free to pick them up. They might tell them to go straight home after school, but when friends are walking down to Sonic or investigating Wildwood Park on their own, the temptation is to go along.
On the first day of school, an adult library patron curtly informed library staff at the circulation desk that some young “hoodlums” were smoking in the parking lot – could we address this problem? The short answer is that while we try to maintain order within the library during the after school period, it strains library personnel resources to maintain the same level of order around the outside of the building. With some police back up, we’re usually able to be sure the public library is a safe, welcoming place for everyone who wants to use it.
Parents, as always, should be advised that the public library differs from the public schools in some very important respects: the building is open to all ages at all times, so your students will share this space with elderly people, parents and very young children, and adult neighbors, acquaintances and strangers. Their behavior in a public place will be observed and may have consequences: we will ask people of any age to leave the library if they do not behave in an appropriate manner. Further, there is no attendance check at the library: your student may come and go as they please, and we do not have the ability nor would we assume the responsibility of tracking them down. Please talk to your middle school student before you agree that the public library is where they should go after school every day. The new space for teenagers is ready to welcome them, but public space requires a new level of maturity to go along with that new freedom.