True confession time: when I was ten, I got kicked out of my local public library and never went back. In fact, unless I was specifically required to for a school assignment, I didn’t go to another library for a full fifteen years. On more than one occasion I told people how much I disliked libraries, and yet eventually I became a librarian myself.
The Incident, Or: All The Good Books Are in the Adult Section
I was a big reader as a kid. Huge. I also had a difficult childhood in an unstable home. Reading was my refuge, where I could escape what was going on around me. It was very, very rare that I had an adult who would take me to the library, but once they dropped me off and I was safely hidden in the stacks, I felt a blissful freedom to follow my passions.
The year I was ten, my passions were mainly books about a) witchcraft, b) ghost stories, and c) books where people got horribly murdered. After I had churned through Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and a few other books, the children’s section didn’t have much that interested me (oh, how things have changed!). The adult section, however, was a treasure trove of horror, true crime, and more. I was particularly excited about a pagan “spellcraft” book that promised spells to protect your home and to bring you wealth. Money and security were two things I desperately needed as a kid, so this book seemed like the promised land. I gathered it and a huge armload of others and went to check them out at the librarian’s desk. She told me I couldn’t check them out.
“Only adults can check out books from the adult section,” she said. “Come back with your mom. She can check them out for you.”
The librarian had no way of knowing that I didn’t have an adult to come back with me. She took the books away, but I was undeterred. I decided I would spend the day at the library, and read the books there. I was happily sitting on the floor in the middle of the stacks, memorizing the ingredients for a protection spell, when an adult loomed over me. Another librarian.
“You can’t be in here without an adult,” she said. “You need to be in the children’s section.”
“The books I want aren’t in the children’s section,” I said.
“You need an adult to look at these books,” she said. “Go get your mom.”
I knew two things at that point: 1. I desperately needed these books. 2. The library was not going to let me have these books. I came to what seemed like my only reasonable option, hid in the children’s section for a few minutes, and then snuck back to the adult section, crammed the books in my backpack, and tried to steal them.
I got caught. A very firm and scary (to me) librarian told me I wasn’t allowed to come back without a parent. So I didn’t come back.
No Such Thing as “Bad Kids” at the Library
As an adult and a children’s librarian, I’ve seen kids make some infuriating choices. Why did you graffiti that? Why are you climbing to the top of that bookshelf? Do you really think that I don’t see you eating the gummy worms I just asked you to put away? But sometimes (not all the time) I’m able to remember what it felt like to be a kid who didn’t have anyone to model good conflict resolution. To be a kid who felt like every interaction with an authority figure was automatically going to be a fight. To be a kid who just didn’t feel like they had any other options. A kid who only had themselves, and trusted no one else.
I also now know as an adult that sometimes adults don’t have all the options they wish they did. As a librarian, sometimes I get stuck between my library’s policies, and what the kid in front of me needs. Sometimes I’m able to side with the kid. Sometimes I’m not.
I do know that I don’t believe there’s such a thing as a “bad kid,” but rather a kid who doesn’t know they have other options. I’m also glad that, after fifteen years away, one day I noticed the library across the street from my apartment, and decided to take a quick look inside. It’s been ten years, and I haven’t been kicked out once.
Today’s blogger is Chelsey Roos. Chelsey has been a member of ALSC’s Advocacy and Legislation committee, and was most recently a children’s librarian at the Castro Valley Branch of the Alameda County Library.
This blog relates to ALSC Core Competencies of I. Commitment to Client Group
At my library there was a teen who we kicked out numerous times for disruptive (to say the least) behavior, but we always told he could come back another day. He had a lot of energy —so, this repeated a number of times. Now a young man, he plays in the NBA.
Chelsey, this was so moving. Thanks so much for sharing. I’ve had to kick out plenty of kids in my library over the years for really, really inappropriate behavior, but almost every one of them knew they could come back and start over with a clean slate.
Thank goodness we’ve moved beyond the days of restricting access to materials. And thank goodness you felt the call of the library as an adult. Your library kids are the richer for it!
Thank you for this post! It’s always good to be reminded of every person’s humanity.
Thank you for sharing your story with us. So glad you found your way back to libraryland!
I also like your sample contemporary books about “bad kids.” Another to try is actually called The Bad Kid, by Sarah Lariviere.