Blogger Amy Steinbauer

Restorative Justice at the Public Library

Image of teens in round circle, blue background says "Restorative Justice at the library"

Restorative justice is one of those buzzwords that has been going around in education for the last decade, and has been making it’s way to the public library over the last few years.

What is restorative justice? In the ways that I use it, I would define it as a practice that seeks to find resolution over a conflict or strife that goes beyond traditional punishment, and typically involves finding time and space to discuss issues. There is a lot to read about this work in libraries and I have linked a few interesting things to check out: PLA has an interesting free webinar, or American Libraries posted a good article about it in 2017, or one librarian shared best practices in an article on Medium.

In a traditional library practice, kids or teens who come into the library and disturb library procedures would be asked to leave for the day or banned/barred from the library for time periods of a week to a year, depending on the severity of the actions.

That practice is punishment driven and can remove children/teens who need access to library resources unnecessarily (of course, there are circumstances where removal is the best option). It also begs the question of what is learned from punishment? Can behavior be changed or rectified from a simple daily or weekly removal?

Working in a busy, urban library environment is a series of balances that tend to never quite equal out. We want to help our communities, we want to be a resource, a safe space for patrons, but we also have to keep our staff safe and libraries safe for all patrons. Libraries can be a catch-all for the community, but how can we solve systemic problems without the framework and support of educational systems?

When words become a part of the library vernacular, I can’t help but wonder how these buzzwords translate into our work and become part of our actions. In my system, we have formed a committee of Youth Services staff, branch managers, and library police offers to try to find solutions beyond removal. Branches are trying their own approaches of Shared Agreements, Teen Lounges and Programming, and having teen volunteers/workers. The hope is that if we can start a conversation with the kids and teens and get to know them as people, we can form better relationships that focus on the positivity instead of negativity. It’s a lot of hard work, with struggles abound. Are you using restorative justice practices at your library? Share below!

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