Child Abuse: The Librarian;s Role; Patrons with Childcare Questions May Need More Than Information

By Gold, Svea | American Libraries, February 1988 | Go to article overview

Child Abuse: The Librarian;s Role; Patrons with Childcare Questions May Need More Than Information


Gold, Svea, American Libraries


Patrons with childcare questions may need more than information Svea Gold, reference librarian at Eugene (Ore.) Public Library, has written several works on child development and child abuse. Her latest is When Children Invite Child Abuse: A Search for Answers When Love Is Not Enough (Fern Ridge Press, 1986).

NEW LIBRARIANS, BE warned: child abuse prevention may not be in your job descriptions or taught to you in library school; but, like it or not, it may come with the territory.

At times we are heroes. Eugene (Ore.) Public Library's Donna Hill recently stopped a man from luring a child into the library's restroom after overhearing him say he had to search her for stolen books. The culprit proved to be a child molester long sought by authorities.

Sometimes we are audience to heroics of children. A librarian heard this calm response from a six-year-old who had viewed an exhibitionist at work in the library: "Oh, I told him the bathroom was upstairs."

Mostly, we are accessible. One day, a young woman plopped down near me at the reference desk. "Quick, give me a book before I kill him!" she exclaimed.

A mother myself, I "Three years old?" When she nodded, I suggested, among other titles, Louise Bates Ames' Your Three Year Old: Friend or Enemy (Delacorte Press, 1976) and the address of a local parent support group. Be a good listener

Did I save a child from imminent danger that day? I doubt it; anyone secure enough to come out and say "I'm going to kin him!" is unlikely to do so. Still, parents rarely seek help if all is going well at home.

More telling, when patrons seek us out for childcare information easily available on the shelves, they may actually want another human being to listen to them. At those times, I wish that somewhere fights would flash and sirens sound. For then, no matter how understaffed our libraries may be, we must come out from behind our desks and try to help.

To stop child abuse before it starts, we must be aware at least of what studies ten us: that there are identifiable high-risk children, parents, and situations.'

Identify potential victims

Who are the high-risk children? In a Colorado study, Richard Compton examined 444 delinquents behind bars-an abuse in itself. He diagnosed among them 1,034 visual, auditory, language, sociological, and psychological dysfunctions.(2) These are some of the conditions that put children at risk-for in fact most "delinquents" were abused in childhood.(3)

How can we librarians prevent abuse? We help by making available to parents and teachers any information that enables them to detect and cure such conditions.

High on the list of abuse "triggers" are toilet training problems. Though librarians are not allowed to give medical advice, we should know that allergies, hypoglycemia, or delayed neurological development can cause bedwetting and soiling.(4) I recommend Alison Mack's Toilet Learning (Little, 1978) to help both children and parents cope.

Not all library schools offer courses on learning disabilities, but they should. Learning dysfunctions can lead to reading problems, and both contribute to a troubled child's behavior. Librarians learn to offer high-interest materials, but should also be aware that some children were taught to read too early in their develop ment and were never retaught when they naily were ready-as signalled by the teething schedules,(5,6) among other factors.

When parents tell you of their children's reading problems, ask if the children have had thorough vision exams. Visual acuity tests alone do not measure the important abilities to coordinate both eyes, to focus quickly from far to near, and to follow a fine without losing it. Because parents are less afraid of librarians than they are of teachers and doctors, they might heed our query

An important source for librarians and parents in understanding learning disabilities is Robert E. …

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