Q: My pre-teen wants to visit the library this summer with her friends. Without me! Is it okay? Is it safe? --- Nervous Parent
A: Hi Nervous Parent. Kids are some of our best customers! Whether they come with parents (or responsible caregivers) or venture into the library alone, they embrace the library as a place of fun and exploration.
According to the our Guidelines for Behavior it is acceptable for minors who are at least 8 years old to visit the library without adult supervision. But please keep in mind that we are not In Loco Parentis: a legal-Latin-term that means “in place of the parent.” In layman’s terms: Unlike school or a community center that takes responsibility for children in place of the parent, the public library is not responsible for your kid, and we don't directly supervise them. So, a preteen who is asking to come to the library with her friends is asking permission to take an unsupervised outing. That baby girl of yours is growing up and ready to spread her wings. Congratulations.
I am not saying anything calming to your nerves, huh? It’s okay, relax Nervous Parent. The library is generally a fun place for your child to have an unsupervised outing provided they are prepared, and you both understand that is a public space, where all are welcome. Here are some tips to consider in preparation for your child’s solo visit to the library. You can revisit them at any time at http://oaklandlibrary.org/kids/welcome-parents.
1. Explain to your child you expect them to behave, and remind them how to be safe.
The library promotes a safe environment for everyone. Now we cannot promise your child's safety; but following our behavior guidelines greatly reduces the opportunity for unsafe experiences. Review the Guidelines for Behavior with your child before visiting the library. Make it clear to your offspring that if they do not behave in the library, they will be asked to leave. Everyone, (not just children) appreciates defined boundaries and a clear understanding of guidelines. Following them promotes a safe environment for everyone. Make sure, too, you discuss basic street safety with your child, and remember that anyone may enter the library. We don't supervise, but we are your child's go-to person whenever they feel that something is not right.
2. In the event of an emergency or unexpected event (earthquake, power outage, gas leak, fire drill, alien envasion, Zombie Apocalypse, etc.), or in the event your child is asked to leave the library, prepare your child with:
- i. a way to contact you. Our phones are available for emergencies only, and in a real emergency might be tied up.
- ii. an alternate place to go if they cannot go home right away.
I do not want to make you more nervous, Nervous Parent. However, a bit of emergency preparation on your part will result in you being much calmer when thinking about your child in the library (or any place else) without you. Additionally, this preparation will be beneficial as your child grows older giving them the confidence to navigate the world independently. Be sure to sign-up for Zombie Apocalyse Preparedness Training when it is offered in the fall for specialized training on managing a world with the undead.
3. Explain to your children they have the right to be respected.
Everyone is welcome in the library: all races, languages, religions, sexual orientation, gender identity, income level, housing situation, etc. Because we are for everyone, we strive to have a community space free of prejudice and bullying. If there is ever a time your child feels bullied, uncomfortable, or unsafe in the library, encourage them to talk to us. If s/he does not feel comfortable talking to us, encourage them to talk to you, and then you contact us. Either way, we want to know about it so we can help rectify the situation. The library is a supportive environment and we promote anti-bullying.
4. Please sign your child up for a library card.
Visiting the library without a library card is like visiting the airport without a ticket in hopes of going somewhere. We all know that the library card allows children to use the public access computers and check out books. But did you know it also provides access to our vast collection of online databases like Tumblebooks, which will read stories to your children via their personal tablets and smartphones? With a library card you can use Overdrive, a database with access to movies you can download and watch for free. For your music lovers Freegal allows free music streaming and free music downloads. Did you know that some branches require a library card to borrow board games for playing in the library? If you want your child to have the best experience possible in the library, and enjoy all of this fabulous free stuff, having a library card is essential.
5. Keep the visit short.
The longer a child is in the library unattended the more likely it is they will become…. BORED! That’s right bored. And parents, boredom is the #1 reason children misbehave in the library, resulting in a negative experience. Why? Because bored children find “something” to do and that “something” can be disruptive. How long can a child stay in the library before becoming bored? Well that really depends on your child’s temperament, and if they have a library card to enjoy some of the FREE activities we provide (see #3.)
6. Pick your child up before the library closes!
Our libraries have a variety of open hours to accommodate almost any schedule. So make sure you know your location's hours of operation. If you cannot pick them up yourself, please make sure your child has a safe way to get to his/her's next destination when the library closes. It makes us nervous when we close the library for the evening and minors are waiting outside. We are not obligated to wait with minors for someone to pick them up. Although librarians are not in loco parentis, we are human. We care about your children too and want them to be safe and happy lifelong learners.
1. Explain behavior guidelines and safety
2. Make an emergency plan
3. Embrace a culture of respect
4. Get a library card
5. Keep the visit short
6. Leave by closing time
Following these tips will result in a fun, safe, and potentially educational event for your unsupervised preteen. We look forward to seeing your family in the library soon.
Now don’t ask personal questions about your library account. We post questions and answers on the blog twice a month. For more personal service you can visit me at Eastmont, or any of my colleagues at your local library. And yes, we value your privacy.