We have been trying for as long as I can remember to attract teenagers into the library. Well we have done it. The library is the coolest gig in town and come 3pm the kids rush down from school. And its all for the internet, and the warmth, and its dry and, its seems just lately, its also a great place to punch hell out of other kids.
Take today for instance. 3 skinny white boys known to staff were quietly playing Risk, the board game, when 2 bros walked past. They abused our boys, shoved each other onto the board game and then each of the bros punched - yes punched - one of our boys in his face. At which point I was frantically summoned by 1 of the other boys.
When I challenged the bros, asking for their names, asking them to wait please while I ring the police because they have assaulted a library patron (yes I labelled it) I was turned on by 4 big girls, their sisters or friends or whatever. 15 or 16 years or so, full of attitude and lip: "oh leave them alone", "they didn't do anything", "they are only little" blah blah blah. At which point I pulled a camera out and took their photograph before heading back to my office to call the Police. I was followed back inside and up the stairs to my office by a very confident young lady, hurling abuse, mouthing off at the boys who had been bullied, getting right in my face until I said loudly and clearly "this is intimidation - you need to leave now".
Now I would like to say this is an unheard off incident, but sadly no. Yesterday 3 very naughty annoying girls bullied a couple of boys, the same girls who had spat on a staff member the previous weekend when asked to leave at closing time.
Actually that incident had capped off a scary scene an hour or so earlier when a staff member had been abused in extremely colourful language by a big fella who had taken offence at her rescuing his 18 month old toddler who was about to hit the bottom of the stairs after hurtling around the library screaming at the top of their lungs. Our staffer had already rescued the toddler once from running out of the library onto the street and had tried without success to find an adult to claim the toddler. Fortunately other members of the public came forward to defend her, someone called the police, several people made statements and the 'Gentleman' left the premises with obscene expletives still streaming from his mouth. He has since been trespassed for 2 years from the public library.
But what do we do with these kids? I don't want to trespass them for 2 years, the length a trespass order applies for. I want to welcome them in from the cold and rain, to use the computers, read the glossy music magazines, slouch in the velour couches and flick through the graphic novels. I just don't understand the psychology of their appalling behaviour. What motivates these kids to act they way they do and stuff it up for themselves? They want what we have - desperately - and queue every day for their free internet time. But I just cannot let this behaviour continue. All kids, the hip cool dudes and the geeky boardgamers alike, are equally entitled to a safe library experience.
Now my own kids will tell you that I'm pretty staunch and not scared of much, but in 25 years of public library service I have never felt as vulnerable as I did today when this young woman was in my face going off. I didn't know what was going to happen next - couldn't believe it was happening at all really.
So where to now? I'm dammed if I'm going to let my library be taken over by thugs. I am just not prepared to have public and staff feeling unsafe in the library. I'm going to have to find precious funds to roster more staff on the floor, probably hire a security guard, and start handing out trespass orders to the ringleaders.
And I just don't want to.