This has disturbed me for several years.

Back in high school, I used to work at my town's public library.  My nameplate said I was "Mr. Serotkin, Audio/Visual Aide," but in reality I was "Ian, Children's Computer Room Supervisor."  Basically, I was in charge of making sure the children played nice with the Macintoshes, played nice with each other, and didn't break anything.  When something did break (most likely due to one of the librarians touching a computer without me hovering nearby to make sure nothing exploded), I had to switch into sysadmin mode and be Mr. Fix-It.  All in all, it was a relatively low-stress job working with kids, which was, despite my inital misgivings, really fun and rewarding.  I actually enjoyed helping kids learn how to use computers--aid that just wasn't available when I was growing up.  I also got to spend 3/4ths of my time going around the firewall to idle on IRC during the slow periods.  :)

I've got pretty thick skin, and by two or three months into my three year reign as King of the Computer Room, nothing the kids did would really faze me anymore.  I also got paid well for my job, almost double the minimum wage crap most of my friends were making, and that helped too.  The parents were a bit more aggravating, as I had to kowtow to them most of the time, but most types I could handle with ease.

Except one.

There were three or four sets of parents who used the children's room as a permanent day care center.  On a typical school day, I would get to the library at 4 PM--right when the after-school crowd of kids would start milling in.

The "day care" kids were already there.

They'd just sit at one of the tables, doing homework for hours upon hours at a time.  Hours.  I don't know how much homework these kids actually had, but I can't remember ever doing more than an hour or two a night when I was in elementary school.  They'd use the computers intermittently, but only after they'd been there for five hours already and had quadruple-checked all their homework.

When they had a problem with their homework, they called me over and asked me to help them with it.  When they were having trouble spelling a word, they asked me to spell it for them.  Some of the younger ones would even ask me to help them go to the bathroom and tie their shoelaces (which I would refuse to do).

This crap was not in my job description.

I asked some of the children's librarians I trusted for clarification about this stuff, and the response was basically, "We know.  We're sick of dealing with it too.  But, they have a right to bring their children here, and there's no limit to how long they can stay here.  So, there's nothing we can do about it."

I tried keeping a logbook for a while to track just how much some of these kids were in my care, but it was impossible since half the time they'd be there before I got there and leave after I had already left.  Half an hour before the library closed--sometimes later--the parents would come, look over the kids' homework, and finally leave with them.  The kicker was that they'd completely ignore myself and the librarians.  In my three years there, I was never thanked once for basically guarding over their children for upwards of thirty hours a week.

I know that day care is expensive.  I know that both parents sometimes have full-time jobs.  I know that the public library is free, close to home, supervised, and safe.  But...

I am not their schoolteacher.

I am not a day care worker.

Raise your own fucking children.

I also work in a public library, at the reference desk. My name tag says "librarian", though, technically, I am not one yet, still in grad school. I also deal with the children that some parents leave here, on a daily basis.

It is not an issue of being able to deal with people. I like working with people - helping the patrons find the information they seek - I enjoy my job. But I am bothered by parents who leave their children at the library for hours at a time.

It's a simple issue of safety and responsibility.

Most of the parents who leave their children here wouldn't think of leaving them alone, unattended in other public spaces like, for instance, the park, but they feel fine leaving their children here.

The library is a public space. All sorts of people use the library. Most of them seem to be good people. But there are also some that definitely seem a bit creepy. I am sure that this is the case everywhere. Parents wouldn't leave their children alone with these people normally, but they seem to feel comfortable with it at the library.

The library, unlike public schools, is not in loco parentis. If I saw something bad happening, I would do what I could to stop it, of course. But much of the time, I am occupied by other work. Additionally, there are large parts of the library that I cannot see from my desk.

Leaving young children alone at the library for long periods of time is the same as leaving them alone elsewhere - it's abandonment. Though I doubt it would happen here, I know that at some of the libraries my classmates work at, they have a policy of calling the police to report an abandoned child if a young child has been left there alone for more than a certain period of time.

I try to explain this to parents, generally to their surprise or even annoyance. They seem to equate the library, as a place of learning, with being a safe place for their children. I'd argue it's a good place for their children, to encourage learning and study, but that that does not make it a day care center.

I am not trying to discourage children from using the library. I am not one of those grouchy librarians who hates children. I'm always happy to see them using the library. But it does worry me that parents think that we will watch over and care for their children.

Maybe there is a need for publicly funded child care. I don't know. I'd like to think that there's a more cost effective way to do it than hiring a bunch of people with master's degrees to work there.

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.