Monday, July 5, 2010

Public Libraries and 'Unattended' Children

Link to July 5 Chicago Tribune article, "Kids find summertime haven in libraries, parents find day care".

Excerpt: In Chicago neighborhoods like Austin and Englewood and suburban communities such as Chicago Heights and Zion, many libraries serve as makeshift summer camps. They're a place where parents with limited means leave their kids for part of the day, and where children escape the streets.

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.

Some organize learning activities and develop curricula. Others forgive late fees and extend the amount of time children can stay on the computer. In one case, the librarian keeps bread, peanut butter and jelly on hand so he can share his lunch with children who say they are hungry.

"Librarians … they are the hidden stars of our communities," Neuman said. "Librarians act as substitute mother teachers. They have taken it upon themselves to fill this role. They are doing it and doing it well, even if it is not something they wanted to do."

The phenomenon is not new, but in this economy, Neuman said a larger number of parents will rely on the library this summer in place of camp for their kids. The increase is expected even as some libraries struggle with reduced hours and fewer staff, she said

Another example of the economic downturn putting new, or perhaps in this case, intensified stresses on libraries.

Chicago Public Library.  Policy of Unattended Children and Disruptive Behavior.

Zion-Benton Public Library.   Behavior Policy.

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