Ask an Agent: How To Stop Adults from Sitting in Teen Area?

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Question: My library has a Teen Area. Like most teen areas, there are signs that say anyone can browse the collection but the chairs, tables, couches are for teens and their guests only. Adults usually sit in the teen area during the day when the library is mostly teen-free. But we do have some teens who do come during the day so I would like the area to remain a teen-only space 24/7. I tell the adults that the area is strictly for teens and sometimes they get huffy. (“It’s 10 am. Aren’t they all in school right now?) How do I stop adults from ignoring all the signs? They are literally on every table in the Teen Area.

Kelsey (Burnham Memorial Library ) says:

Well, aside from making your signs talking and neon with blinky LEDs? I don’t know. What you can do is try to change the way you deliver the message in person. Unfortunately, they’re likely to get huffy anyway. But what if you phrased it something like this: “Hi. I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to ask you to move to the adult area. This space is reserved for teenagers who may not feel comfortable around strange adults.” [but they’re all in school blah blah blah no teens here now] “I understand your concern, however it is our policy to maintain a safe space for teens whenever and where ever they come from.” I’ve noticed that adults in my library aren’t always thinking of the fact that to a random teenager, they are the creepy stranger and once it’s been pointed out, they get the point and leave. Whatever you decide to say, keep your message the same. If you’re consistent for long enough, maybe eventually not hanging out there will become the norm. Good luck!

Nikki (Cleveland Bradley County Public Library) says:

Keeping adults out of the teen space is a struggle and I haven’t found a perfect solution. Each of our teen computers has a sign, I have a sign posted outside the door, and there are signs throughout the space. Every now and then, I see someone stop and read the sign posted outside the door (I’m basically in a big glass box with doors that can be closed during programming for noise barriers) and I want to embrace them and give them a cake. No one reads the signs. We have the same kind of policy for our children’s library too and have had some ruffled patrons in there too (though why an adult would choose to sit in a miniature chair next to a puppet theater and try to get work done, I can’t imagine). It helps that
we have consistency throughout youth services.

I try to preempt the situation when I’m in the library and rely on other staff to be consistent with the policy when I’m not. Having it consistently upheld is crucial and so is having the guidelines officially included in library policy. If an adult comes in, I give them a minute to look around and browse but always intervene if I see them about to nest at a table or computer. So much of it is about presentation. I smile and say “Hi, I just wanted to let you know before you get settled that this space is reserved for ages 10-18 and it may be quiet now, but we have a *insert program or activity here* going on after school and the reference area may be better for you” or something like that so that instead of feeling like they are being kicked out, they feel like they are being warned of the impending middle schooler apocalypse. I’ve found that people are more receptive to that approach and don’t feel like they are being asked to leave an empty room for no reason.

If that doesn’t work and they get upset, I just let them get it all out before responding. Some people are going to be unhappy no matter what, but most folks will listen if you just let them blow off the steam. If asking them kindly doesn’t work, be prepared with your rationale for keeping it teens-only – safety. Most adults will swallow that easier than the idea that teens should have ownership of their own space unfortunately. I don’t want anyone to feel like the library is a predator haven or anything, but I will let them know that for the safety and privacy of our teen patrons, we ask that all adults use their own space. Be consistent and kind and people will get it eventually.

Sarah (Chicago Public Library) says:

I’ve found that the best way to get adults used to a Teen Only space is to do exactly what you’re doing and enforce the policy face to face as much as  possible. If you have a security guard, maybe have them make regular stops through the space, and/or ask the other librarians to help you enforce the policy.  Having things that say TEEN in big letters in as many places can also help – we have a giant TEEN sign on the wall.  Eventually they will get used to it, but in my experience there will always be adults who are unhappy about it. I’ve found the following talking points most effective in talking to adults who are unhappy about a Teen Only space.

-Explain that the policy is connected to sex offender laws. Teens are still minors and as such, having adults who are not accompanying teens in the Teen Area is a safety concern.

-We encourage our teens to feel ownership of this space, and though the space might be empty this exact minute, if a teen walks in five minutes from now and sees an adult  it can make teens feel like their space is being taken away.

-Most teens are in school during the day but many are not.  Some are homeschooled, some are doing alternative schooling programs. Some are experiencing other struggles that lead to them not attending school and we want them to know that this is always a safe space for them to come, so they aren’t out getting into trouble.

Sarah (Warren-Trumbull County Public Library) says:

You’ll just have to keep gently reminding them that this space is for teens, and let them know that homeschoolers and other teens do use the library throughout the day. Also be sure to have the backing of supervisors and administration. My area has a sign (situated at the entrance and the throughout the room) that states ‘Adults (such as parents or tutors) may use this space if they are WITH a teen.’

Stephen (Chapel Hill Public Library) says:

We also run into this problem at my library and it’s very frustrating, particularly when people argue or disregard what you say! I find an easy way to have this conversation is to simply tell the patron that, even though the space is quiet right now, there’s a very good chance it won’t be that way for long, and people typically leave on their own without being asked. We’re fortunate that our space is a little removed from the main area, so we can also do things like play music or put on Netflix, which is usually less appealing to adults looking to do quiet work. Though there are similarities in what’s attractive to adults and to teens, there are definitely things you can do in your space to make it more appealing to teens than to adults. Also, you might try to figure out some ways to engage the teens using the space during the day. Who are they? Are they homeschooled or doing online school? Are they looking for jobs or trying to make a resume? There may be some programming opportunities there. We have homeschool groups using our teen room as a classroom two mornings a week, so that tends to keep adults out on those days. Obviously you don’t want to stretch yourself too thin or pull resources from after school programs with higher attendance, but there may be some easy ways to make the teen area more active during the day and opportunities to contact groups you may miss in regular outreach like homeschool groups.

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