Library as Ad-Hoc Summer Camp

From the Chicago Tribune: It was a warm and sunny day outside, but Xavier Parker, 10, was deep into a computer game at Thurgood Marshall Public Library when his father walked in and told the boy he was about to go to a store.

"Stay in here," Xavier's father, Jimmy Giles, said, leaving the boy in charge of his 6- and 8-year-old brothers. "Don't go anywhere until I come back and get you."

Giles is a single father and he doesn't like his boys roaming their Englewood neighborhood or playing outside because it's not safe, he said. So nearly every day the boys walk to the library and sometimes stay there for hours. "They love it here," he said. "They don't want to leave."

Many of these children spend the day at the library without the guidance of a parent, said Susan Neuman, professor of educational studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, who is writing a book on public libraries and education. As a result, some librarians have developed informal regimens and systems for managing the daily influx of unsupervised kids. More from The Chicago Tribune.

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Library != Free baby-sitting service

I find it annoying to hear librarians say the library is not a free baby-sitting service and then turn around and act exactly like a free baby-sitting service.

Many times we have no choice...

A lot of times we have no choice. At my library we have kids who walk to the library without any parental supervision. Roughly 90% of the kids or teens who come into our library either walk to the library or their parent drops them off then leaves them there the whole day.

I agree this shouldn't be encouraged by the librarians in the piece. Having kid and teen programs is great, having summer reading programs is even better, helping kids or teens find books that interest them is the best, but too many parents are using the library as a free baby-sitting service. What are we supposed to do, kick a 10-year-old kid out the door if he's there longer than 2 or 3 hours and no way to reach his parents? There's only so many times you can call the cops or child services.

I'm torn

There's more than one side to any story of course. Parents who use the library as a free baby sitter are problematic, especially since generally the kids don't particularly want to be in the library and that's the source of misbehavior and shenanigans. Also the parents expect the library staff to watch/caretake/discipline their kids. That's a no-go.
On the other hand, there are young kids who DO want to be in the library and ARE capable of self-policing. I can't imagine how boring my summers and weekends would have been as a child had I not been allowed to bike down to the library by myself (from the age of 8, 6 if I was with an older sibling) and immerse myself in a world of books. But my parents never left me there as easy child care or expected the library staff to act in loco parentis.

Simple

Give the parents a warning, then yes you have to call social services.
They have neglected their children. If Library rules and council/state/governmental rules say you cannot leave your kids at home alone, or in public alone then you have broken the law.

If you have kids you look after them. Doesn't matter to me if they are a hassle dragging them round the shops, you decided to have them (or weren't responsible enough to work out how not to have them), you take the responsibility. Maybe you should stay with your kids and engage in what they are interested in?

Maybe some local council approved babysitters should be available for a small fee in libraries over the summer for those kids that rightly can be trusted in a library, who want to read or use the library properly. But on a 1 person for maybe 3 kids scale, just as if their parents were there, not as an overall creche as is what seems to happen in so many places.

Sorry, but in most cases

Sorry, but in most cases library "rules" do not equate to any laws that can be broken or enforced.

A disruption for others

So many times I've come across the dropped off kids. It's not just the summer, it's after school too. They are bored, run around and generally take up the librarian's valuable time. This is time taken away from the other patrons and the librarian's job. Time and tax dollars that are used "babysitting" for a parent who can't take care of their own children. I wonder how folks who work in an office or store would feel if someone dropped off kids at their place of work for a few hours while they ran an errand?

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