Just Say It! - Poor Behaviors and You

One of the things that many youth folks struggle with is managing their space in a way that allows many users at the same time to experience the youth area in a fairly pleasant way.  The recent posts on pubyac on patron rules and posts at S. Bryce Kozla (here and here) and my own experience at the libraries I've worked at has me thinking.

I think some of our problems in this area revolve around personality traits of whoever is working desk. Introverts find it painful to confront kids/adults displaying poor behaviors. The "if-I-just-shut-my-eyes/ears-it-will go away-soon" method is a strategy that is often employed here.  Staffers who refuse to take responsibility (they-don't pay-me-enough-to-deal-with-this) wait out the end of their desk shift as well. Folks who are gentle souls and unfailingly pleasant find it nearly impossible to deliver negative news or behavior guidelines that might impact the user negatively.

Nervous folks worry that any statement on the part of staff could result in a patron leaving the library in a huff, trashing them to the director and then never coming back to use the library. Bullying staff who love to order everyone around have no concern in this area and run the room in such a rigid style that patrons really DON'T want to use the room and find alternate libraries or hope someone else is working when they come in.

So. I can't say I have a magic formula for the solving these behavior problems. But here's the thoughts behind how I approach situations and what I hope the people I manage will do as well.

Part of my strategy is to always be aware of the mood or tenor of the area.  Kids having meltdowns - that's life; ignore it.  Adults having cellphone conversations quietly -ignore it. Tweens mock-fighting- intervene. Toddlers climbing on furniture or using the giant giraffe as a climbing wall- intervene. Kids running/shouting - intervene (Walk, please; Quiet voices please). Kids talking excitedly with each other or adults -ignore. Parents chatting loudly in front of the desk preventing staff from hearing patron requests on phone or in front of them - intervene.

I don't wait until my blood pressure is sky high, my temper frayed or the behavior so out of control it can't be reined in. By being clear on what behaviors and conduct are expected (yes, get those codes of conduct written up!) and responding in a timely manner, much drama and upset can be avoided (think of the Dog Whisperer here, counseling that small corrections consistently prevent dogs from getting into the "red zone").

When intervention is called for, I just say it calmly without getting upset. I usually briefly say to adults why I am asking for a change in behavior. I find that usually elicits the best results. For kids, I am the adult, and asking for the behavior I expect is done directly with them. It helps the parent understand what I am expecting and they often take the reins from there.  If that doesn't happen, I may spend a few seconds explaining to the parent why we don't let toddlers run wild on our reading boat or why the behavior their child is displaying needs to stop.

Not all interactions are successful. I certainly get resistance, some occasional  rude comments (I'm being nice here). Sometimes, if swearing or disrespect to the staff or other users is involved, the adult is escorted out of the library for the day (or longer if the abuse is egregious). I don't allow abusive behavior or ignoring reasonable requests to change behavior. I am the authority when I am on desk.
I am always confident in the fact that I can keep the room from descending into chaos.  I do have a responsibility to keep the needs of the many in mind in helping people use the room appropriately.

By saying what needs to be said and displaying calm power, appropriate behaviors are easier to guide. At least that's how it works for me! What about you?

Image: 'BldDwCghttp://www.flickr.com/photos/73344134@N00/4829944582 Found on flickrcc.net


  1. Timely post! We have several groups from our version of the Y that come every Wednesday during the summer and the "councelors" just let the kids run wild...and there are a LOT of them!I have used several of the approaches that usually work without success. Next summer I am talking to the program director about a plan and some goals and rule setting.One week left this summer and I will really try to manitain control of the space. Wish me luck and thank you for the post.

    1. That's a great pro-active plan and sounds like it's needed. I have had to go up to summer staff members and say directly, "You are going to need to get totally involved in creating great behavior with the kids or I will ask you all to leave." That usually let's them know that they DO have a responsibility. That conversation done with the director will probably do wonders to prevent the chaos. You go!

  2. We rarely have problems during the summer, other than the occasional family camping out at the library for the air-conditioning and computers, whether or not their kids are tired/hungry/want to go home. Only one daycare occasionally visits and they are super organized. They could give lessons on library behavior! Our big problem is the 5th grade and middle school kids after school and occasional groups of older teens. It doesn't help that our teen area is upstairs, which is supposed to be the silent area and has no staff and there is a public computer lab right next to the children's area.