Young and Restless in the Library

By Jones, Patrick | American Libraries, November 1995 | Go to article overview

Young and Restless in the Library

Jones, Patrick, American Libraries

A public library story time concludes and preschoolers begin running around the place yelling like mad, and it is deemed acceptable behavior. Two senior citizens loudly discuss their medical bills while standing at the copier, and no staff member asks them to be quiet or to move. A "regular" patron's winded and full-voiced discussion of the latest bestseller is accepted. Or a group of six adults, having left a library program, stands directly in front of the circulation desk discussing the program and no one says anything to them. But at 2:30 p.m., two young adults enter the building talking and laughing, which is somehow the end of the library world as we know it, and their entry prompts the classic "shhhh" response from the nearest library employee. Some young adults just laugh it off, some ignore it, and some just turn around and leave, wondering what our problem is.

Young adults are loud and libraries are quiet, and opposites do seem to attract. if a list were compiled of all the stereotypical characteristics of young adults and matched with a list of how young adults view libraries and librarians, the contradictions would be apparent. The things librarians often value--organization, quiet, reflection, civility, and love of the printed word--are contrasted with the stereotypical young adult traits of disorder, loudness, constant motion, rudeness, and the love of the image. Yet despite the apparent divisions between librarians and young adults, bridges can be built and connections made.

Young adults congregate in libraries for a variety of reasons. The most obvious reason is the same reason others do--because they have an information need that the library can meet. Sometimes this information need is school related and at other times it is not. For a lot of young adults, the home is not the right place to study and the library is the obvious alternative. For younger teens, libraries are often the places where they feel comfortable, in a world they are more confused about daily. Libraries also serve as an after-school social center for young adults. In many communities, when school is over there is no place available for young adults to gather except local public libraries. The library is free, easily accessible, and known. Regardless of their motives, young adults need libraries and libraries need young adults.

It is the "congregation" aspect among young adults--the wolf pack image--that causes the most problems for libraries. When young adults gather, problems may occur. In some libraries, it is just a numbers problem. For those libraries located near schools, the crowd that gathers after 2:30 can be intimidating for no other reason than its sheer size. This scenario requires real leadership from staff: A sole young adult librarian is not the answer to serving 75 young adults at once. The person in charge of the library must set the tone and develop the strategy for all staff.

Why they can pose problems

Developing realistic expectations of young adult behavior is the first step to solving the young adult patron challenge. Young adults behave the way they do because of pressure from the constant changes they are experiencing. Not yet adults, but not wanting to be considered children, young adults often feel like confused, caged animals. Consequently they may lash back at society in their confusion, insecurity, and loneliness. Add to that the fact that many young adults are in libraries to complete an assignment they resent, or are there due to boredom and looking for entertainment.

The physical, emotional, and social changes that young adults experience are called developmental tasks. The primary developmental tasks of young adults are:

* Physical activity

* Competence and achievement

* Self-definition

* Creative expression

* Need for positive interaction with peers and adults

* Need for structure and limits

* Desire for meaningful participation

Understanding each of these developmental tasks helps increase understanding of why young adults are often perceived as problem patrons in libraries. …

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