The book blogosphere has been grappling for awhile with the question of how much influence adults should have on the YA book market, whether through purchasing power or reviews. However, I have yet to see anyone discuss what happens when adults physically take over the space meant for teens in the library. Although the issues are different–one concerned with what teens are able to purchase and read (see: the lack of YA featuring teens under the age of 16) and one concerned with the ability of teens to feel safe when visiting the library–they are connected in that both issues seem to be created by a fundamental unawareness on the part of adults as to how their actions could impact teens–and maybe even a fundamental lack of caring about that impact.
Once upon a time, teen spaces in libraries were scarce and, when they were first created, some were undoubtedly inspired by a desire on the part of adults to keep those pesky youngsters away from the rest of the patrons–teens are too loud, too active, too uncontrollable. Better to hide them away from the serious-minded individuals wishing to study or read or listen to their music in peace. But, these days, teen spaces are a common feature for most libraries, born of a recognition that libraries are meant to serve all patrons, of all ages and that teens often need their own space–a space where they can be themselves, use the furniture in nontraditional manners, let loose a few words maybe unsuitable for young children’s ears, and, very importantly, not feel like they are being lumped together with the babies. Most libraries want to give teens space to be creative, to express themselves, to be teens. And, so, I find it very troubling that, when I go into libraries, the teen space is very often being co-opted by adults.
Now most, if not all, adults seem to recognize that being unaccompanied by a minor and just hanging out in the children’s section can be perceived as a little creepy and threatening by parents of young children. Those who do not recognize this are often helped by library policies stating unaccompanied adults must be actively browsing the materials, or they must leave for the adult section. Yet many adults seem to think it is perfectly normal to sit in the teen section, read their newspaper, surf the web, hold meetings, and even, once, some sort of prayer meeting. Even if the library policy also states clearly on prominently-displayed signage that the teen area is for teens only.
I think adults feel entitled to take over the teen space for various reasons. Some are very obviously trying to separate themselves from the homeless population. Some see the teen space as unoccupied and decide it is a good, quiet place for them since all the other adults are annoyingly sitting in the adult section where they want to sit. Some just do not understand that teenagers, seeing an unaccompanied adult sitting in their space, may perceive that person as creepy or threatening.
The teen space is supposed to be a safe space, but teens cannot feel safe if their section of the library is filled with adults who are not supposed to be there. I would argue that the very act of choosing to ignore a sign asking adults to leave indicates to teens that that adult is a threat–because they are actively and knowingly choosing to take over someone else’s space. They are saying with their actions that they do not care about the teens or how the teens might feel. And so the teens rightly cannot feel comfortable with that adult presence.
Unfortunately, there seems to be little librarians can do to enforce a teens-only policy. Librarians do not exactly have punishments for those who chose to ignore their signs or their directions, aside from issuing a ban. And this may seem too extreme a consequence for sitting in the teen section. And so I imagine adults taking over teen spaces will sadly continue.