Children and LibrariesEvery so often we hear about an adult – usually a parent – who objects loudly when a library allows a child or young teen to borrow an R-rated video. Martin J. Nagle of West Brookfield, MA, complained to the Merriam-Gilbert Public Library (MGPL) last year after his 11-year-old daughter checked out a DVD of the 2006 movie Underworld: Evolution, sequel to Underworld. The series is a horror-fantasy about battling tribes of werewolves and vampires, and it’s rated R “for pervasive strong violence and gore, some sexuality – nudity and language.”

Nagle said that the library had no business allowing his daughter to check the movie out, but Library Director Lisa Careau says that the library follows the precepts of ALA’s Library Bill of Rights, and allows card-holders to take out anything they choose. His challenge went before the MGPL Board, but the Board decided not to change the circ policy. Nagle told the Republican, the local newspaper, that “he has contacted the state about the library’s loan policy… [he] said he wants to learn whether the library’s policy is accurate.” (Huh?) But he would not reveal the person or agency he contacted.

The thing I found interesting about this story was not the DVD complaint – those are nothing new. Careau said that many adults are surprised that public libraries don’t work the way school libraries do – that unlike schools, public libraries do not act in loco parentis (in the place of the parent), and cannot decide what material is proper or improper for a particular child.

But the description of MGPL’s policy about who is allowed into the library unaccompanied, and at what age, is way more interesting to me. Librarians who get headaches dealing with latchkey kids who stay all afternoon (or all day on school holidays when parents must work) might find the following worth a read, the second sentence in particular:

Children 8 years old or younger must be accompanied by someone 14 or older, [Careau] said. Children, who are 9 to 13, may visit unattended, but for a maximum of two hours, she said.

Those 14 or older are unrestricted in their attendance, but like any visitor, may be asked to leave if they break library rules….

I can’t help but wonder how this works in practice. I’ve worked in libraries where low-income working parents depend on the library to “babysit” their middle-school-aged kids from 2:45 to 6 p.m. every day, and I know what they’d be complaining to the Board about.

(NOTE: this story will be available only for 14 days.)