This is the season when Santa decides who's naughty and who's nice.
Over at the library, we've got some kids who definitely will be getting coal for Christmas.
Among the many hats I wear in this community is one as a member of the library board of trustees. So I have a special interest in what goes on there.
In recent weeks, we've been having more and more problems with kids -- most of them just dumped by their parents there for the library staff to babysit. We've had to call the cops a couple times to deal with fights among groups of kids. We've had food fights break out in the informal reading area. The vandalism of our beautiful new building is getting out of hand. Kids are trashing the restrooms and carving on the beautiful (and expensive) study tables.
Don't get me wrong. This isn't the majority of kids by any means. As usual, it's a small minority causing the problems. Most of the kids are pretty well behaved. But there is a minority that is ruining the library experience for both youth and adult patrons who want to use the library appropriately.
And the librarians are getting tired of having to be the wicked witches of the west. It's not the job they want.
We don't have any problems with the little kids -- the pre-schoolers. They come to the library with at least one parent and with rare exception those parents do a good job monitoring their kids' behavior.
Our problem is primarily with the elementary through early junior high kids, and it begins shortly after school lets out, when the library gets flooded with kids.
If some kid misbehaves, the library director, Luis House, usually warns them first, then, if they don't pay any attention, tells them they'll have to leave. But she doesn't just show them out the door. She has them call their parents first, not just to let the parents know there has been a problem, but primarily to let them know Johnny or Sally isn't at the library and is on their way home.
The problem is, a lot of these kids can't get hold of their parents. And time and time again the staff is told, "I can't go home now, my parents told me to stay here until they get off work."
The library is not a daycare.
Let me repeat that, the library is not a publicly subsidized daycare.
The staff is not trained or licensed to provide daycare services. And they've got plenty to do without having to add babysitting to their list of duties.
We've had kids dumped on us who are told by their parents they have to stay there from the time school lets out until the library closes at 7 p.m. -- when the parents will come pick them up.
And with rare exception, most of these kids aren't remotely interested in reading or studying, or engaging in other behaviors appropriate to a library.
The library staff has tried to offer some board games or craft activities, but most of the problem kids aren't interested in those activities either. They want to play. They want to run through the building chasing and screaming at each other. They get bored and start carving on tables and chairs or trying to clog the toilets with paper. They get into fights.
All of which takes away from those kids (and the adults) who want to use the library for what it's supposed to be used for -- a place to study, to learn, to find books and to read. The staff wants every person's experience in the library to be a pleasant one, but we've got patrons who won't even consider visiting the facility these days between 3-5 p.m.
And we can't have a cop stationed there all the time, although the city police have agreed to do some regular walk-throughs (it's amazing how well behaved people are when a cop is around).
But it's shameful to have parents try and use the library for a daycare. Almost all of our problems stem from these "latchkey" kids who are told to "stay at the library until I come pick you up." They're not told to study or read. They're just told to stay there.
But the library is not a playground and not a daycare. And parents who try and use it as one for their kids are doing a disservice not only to all the patrons of the library who want to enjoy their visits there, but to their kids as well. Those parents deserve their own lumps of coal.