There's an interesting debate about library use and rules going on at Free Range Kids right now. You can read the post that sparked it here, but basically, the author of the post (who is also an author of children's books) and her husband were shooed out of the children's section of their local library because they didn't have a child with them. The rationale they were given was that "we can't have people hanging around and looking at the kids."
Based on that, I knew what I thought. I think society has gotten incredibly hysterical about "stranger danger" and has made all sorts of normal behaviors suspect, from sitting on a plane next to a child to giving out Halloween candy, to just smiling at the sight of someone else's kids having fun in public. This seems to be another sad and pathetic example of that, especially since the library was deserted when the writer and her husband were shooed away. There weren't even any kids for them to ogle.
But then I read some of the comments, especially those from public librarians. They stated that the goal was to provide a separate space for the kids, away from both the creepy people that genuinely do like to hang out at libraries and the overbearing yuppies who treat it as their personal office. They want it to just be a sort of "adult-free zone" where the kids can get into books without any disapproving stares, and from a practical standpoint, without having to fight for space with people who have the entire rest of the library.
I can see both sides of the issue, I guess. I always think it's bad to keep anyone away from any kind of book. But I also confess that I've been irritated many, many times by the screams of a bored child whose mom, in her infinite wisdom, dragged her into the adult section while she looked at adult books when the children's room was RIGHT. FUCKING. THERE. and full of things Young Screamer would have found more to her liking than the newest Lauren Weisenberg. Maybe if that mom had felt better about leaving her kid in there, the rest of us wouldn't have been treated to her Symphony of Boredom.
And while Lenore's blog focuses on overprotective parents, there are the other kind, too. The kind that see any supervised, kid-friendly environment and think: FREE BABYSITTING. The kind that will leave their three-year-old in the Kid Zone at Barnes and Noble while they go get their hair done. Those parents love libraries, too, and you know that if "something happened," they'd suddenly take a huge interest in their parenting duties and would sue. Maybe the policy was to address that issue, too.
I think it has to be applied judiciously, though. There are all sorts of legitimate reasons to want to use that space. In my city library, I see lots of new immigrants there who are trying to learn English. When you're switching entire alphabets, "Make Way for Ducklings" is probably a more appropriate place to start than the newspaper. Teachers use it to get books out for their classes. Museum educators use it to get books out for programs. Parents may want to use it when their kids are elsewhere. Students taking courses in children's lit, teens who have to babysit, there are a million reasons why. Many commentators pointed out that it's often simply the most attractive place in the library. Would you rather read your book in a beanbag chair by the 10-foot tall windows that overlook the park, or in a dimly-lit 1970s fake-wood cubicle?
I guess, sadly, a policy is needed to make sure adults are considerate, though. I think the librarian in the original example went a little overboard, kicking out obviously harmless people when the library was empty. But you see so much selfish and bizarre behavior in libraries that, sadly, there needs to be some way to curb it. No, you can't keep kids safe forever, and yes, the people who flock to libraries that need social services have the right to be there too. But you don't want to chase out the library's core audience just because our society fails so miserably at mental health care.