Turning Librarians Into Babysitters

The Washington Post Reports on something you've already noticed. If there's snow on the ground and school is canceled, the phones at George Mason Regional Library are likely to begin ringing an hour before the doors open.

"The issue of unattended children is a huge one not only in Fairfax but across the country," said Kathryn L. Rzasa, branch manager at Fairfax County's Woodrow Wilson Library, which serves a large immigrant population and is host to many young children after school. "Child care is a big issue right now for a lot of families. They're working hard at lots of jobs and they don't have a lot of options. . . . We do what we can to help out, but we are not equipped to provide day care and the kind of supervision parents want for their children."

The same is true on teacher workdays and any other time children are out of class but their parents are due at work.

Debbie King, branch manager at the Annandale library, knows exactly what the callers are after. They ask whether the library is open, she said, but what they really want to know is whether "they can leave their children at the library while they're at work. That's when we know it's going to be a problem day."


The automatic reaction to this sort of inquiry, when the true motivation becomes apparent, should be "If you leave your child here unattended, the police and/or Child Protective Services will be notified."

There should be zero tolerance for the abuse of libraries as makeshift daycare centers.

For those non-geeks out there, "!=" means "does not equal" or "not equal to" in many programming languages. So does "" most of the time."==" will generally mean equal to, and sometimes "===" will mean identical.So, in the above comment, Korpios was saying "Libraries Do Not Equal Daycare."

At my library, the guards go around about half an hour before closing time, making sure that kids have a ride home or that they've phoned home to remind their folks to pick them up. Even with that, it's not unusual to find one or two kids still at the library when we close at 9pm. If they're under age 13, the guards and a Youth Librarian wait with them for 15 minutes. After that, the police is called to pick up the kids and we put up a sign telling the parents where their kids are.

(Yeah, I know this doesn't cover the problem of kids left here all day. I don't know how Youth Services deals with young kids who are obviously alone during the day. I just have to worry about the teenagers.)

The economy excuse again! "Child care is a big issue right now for a lot of families. They're working hard at lots of jobs and they don't have a lot of options. . . "

Go back and read any public library journal of any persuasion and you'll see that this problem has existed regardless of unemployment rate, which party is in office, suburban, urban, rich or poor. I live in an affluent community and when my children were young and at the library with me, I always saw unattended children--some quite young.

If parents were sending their kids to the city building instead of the library, you'd probably see some action from officials who would notice many parents expect someone else to look after their kids.

It's not just the library that this happens at.When I was a lifeguard, a woman dropped two PRESCHOOLERS off one day with two lunchboxes, a towel, and wearing floaties and swimsuits and went to work. No sunscreen was provided but that was the least of the concerns at the time.Neither child could swim and they mixed in with other children for a while before one of the other mothers figured out what happened. It was a fairly affluent area with many teenagers looking for work and a babysitter would not have been difficult to find. We called the mother who then proceeded to cuss out the lifeguards for not wanting to help her out. We were grateful that the mothers phone number was written in one of the lunchboxes because the kids didn't know it.Also, at the pool (and I have discovered that this is common at many public pools) there is a problem with child molesters (watch out for the people who wear googles and watch to see the kids swimsuits ride up as they jump off the diving board and into the water and watch for them going into the bathrooms after young children who insist on 'going by themselves').All in all, I wish our general manager would have allowed us to call the police, regardless of however much 'publicity' it would have gotten.

This is one of the most frustrating aspects of my job. I was a single parent with three young children and paid an arm and a lung for childcare. The thought of dumping my children off at a public library, thus avoiding any expense, never occurred to me. I’ve had parents argue with me that their three-year-old is “just fine by herself�. I’ve handed them the children’s policy, 6 and under with parent or guardian at all times, and they just don’t want to get it. In 20 years, it has never been this bad.

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