It’s an age-old discussion among librarians: how to handle children who spend hours at the library without their parents or guardians. Many public library workers have a background in education/child care or have children of their own, and thus try their best to see to these children and their safety. But the public should know: it’s not a job duty of librarians or library workers to supervise children left at the library.

I think it’s important that the parents of the children and teens who use the library know and understand that library staff and administration make no guarantees regarding supervision or safety–physical or emotional– for children in the building outside of programs for which their parents or guardians have registered them. We call the paramedics for medical emergencies, we may involve the police in more serious disturbances, and we try to keep the building free of trip hazards and dangerous people.

But one thing library staff doesn’t do–and can’t do–is babysit.

The library’s policy states the following:

UNATTENDED CHILDREN POLICY

It is the responsibility of parents/guardians to:

  • Stay at the library with children aged 0 – 7 or ensure that any caregivers with whom they leave their children are sufficiently responsible to provide care and are at least 14 years of age.
  • Encourage positive behavior by their children while in the library.
  • Cooperate with the library staff if their children are disruptive or if they interfere with or endanger others.
  • Provide a means of transportation home from the library by the time the library closes.

The Library Board respects the rights and privacy of all library patrons.  Library staff will only intervene when children are left unattended and problems of safety, disruptive behavior, or well-being occurs.  Library staff will follow established library procedure for the protection of the child or to maintain an environment free from disruption in accordance with the Library Conduct Policy.

Notice that kids older than seven (7) years old, as long as they aren’t disruptive to staff or other library users, are not treated any differently from an adult in any substantial way. We presume on their maturity and ability to follow the library’s rules.

But if a child’s behavior does become an issue, staff follows “established library procedure.” What does that mean? Well, if an unattended child has a health emergency or exhibits a behavior problem or other difficulty, staff first tries to discuss the matter and clear it up with the child directly, in keeping with the library conduct policy (link:  Library Conduct Policy). If that doesn’t work, staff will try to contact parents or guardians to arrange a ride home. If staff can’t reach the parents/guardians, we’ll call the police and make  other transportation arrangements for the child.

When it comes to older kids, we may not follow such a roundabout path; staff may simply tell teenagers 14 and older to leave if they are involved in a problem in the building.

The West Des Moines Public Library is a fun and stimulating place and staff does all it can to make the building and environs safe, but we ask the parents of our community to be aware of our limitations and the rules and policies of the library when minors are here unsupervised.

Any parent with questions or concerns can contact me, library director Darryl Eschete, at 515-222-3409 or at darryl.eschete@wdm.iowa.gov.