Adults in the Teen Space at the Library

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.

11 thoughts on “Adults in the Teen Space at the Library

  1. ivebeenbookedblog says:

    Interesting. I have never looked at it this way. I am 23 and tend to sit in the young adult section because that’s the only place free quite often. I also do look 12. So I have never been asked to leave but I can say I have seen some unwelcome people lurking in those sections before. I understand this, but some times libraries are very small and it is hard to cater for this and enforce it. For example my local one doesn’t even have seats in the children’s section it’s all in one place. But bigger ones I go to have heaps of sections. I don’t think this will ever change, maybe in large libraries. Thank you for the food for thought.

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  2. Briana | Pages Unbound says:

    My former library had this problem. There would be clearly adult people sitting in there for hours on their laptop or whatnot, despite the clear signs and lots of available space elsewhere in the library, and I never saw a single library worker attempt to ask them to move. It did prevent teens from using the space. I’d see people walk in, see a random middle-aged guy chilling there alone, and walk right out again.

    People did this in the children’s room too. There seemed to be a weekly informal adult Bible study held there for no apparent reason.

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    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      This library also had a sign that you could sit there during school hours, when teens wouldn’t be there, which I think was fair. I do think everyone has this idea like, “I’m not bother anyone” or “I’m not a creep,” so they think it’s fine if they sit there, but I would really avoid infringing on the teen-specific space if at all possible. As I said, my observations are, in fact, that many teens will not go in the room or not hang out in it if there are random adults there.

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  3. Aelyn says:

    This is a really interesting discussion and one that I haven’t considered before. I think there are a lot of problems in trying to police this issue. One, it’s not always obvious who is a teen and who isn’t. Two, like you say, posters are not always good enough—people may intentionally ignore them or not even see them. Three, the possibility for conflict puts a lot of pressure/stress onto library staff if they need to ask people to move out of the teen area.

    It’s a tricky issue and I don’t know if there is a good solution to it. In the public libraries I have visited (in the UK), I don’t think there has been a “teen area” as such, or at least no space advertised as one. The YA section of public libraries in the UK is (usually) disappointing small and consists of a couple of shelves, either tacked onto the children’s section or just floating in the no man’s land between the children’s and adults areas.

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  4. theorangutanlibrarian says:

    This is such an important and complex issue. I can say one good thing about libraries here is that, because of safeguarding, adults generally aren’t allowed in the teen section when teens are there (and are never allowed in the children’s section without a child). BUT there are a couple of issues with this- one being lack of space- one local library near me has just one table to work on (without computers) in the entire library (I kid you not) which means adults have to go to the teen section to work. The other problem, and I think this might be more of an international issue, is that with the blurring of what YA is, so many books end up there that it’s really understandable that adults would want to be able to access those books (not just the books, like the ones by Maas, where it’s questionable if it is YA, but books like the entire LOTR trilogy, any classic book that a librarian might think teens should read, adult graphic novels like Saga, I saw Circe recently in the teen section… the list is endless!) So, I actually really strongly support keeping teen sections for teens only- but this is creating some problems.

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    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Yeah it’s just a really bad time for libraries in the UK- a lot of local libraries have downsized or had to close :/ And I completely get what you mean- even in libraries where there is literally no space, I squirm when I see adults in the teen section and it’s even weirder when they try to interact with teens (though fortunately they get a telling off for that and are asked to move every time).

      That’s good. It depends on the borough here, but a lot of libraries have policies about those books being exclusively for teens… which is a problem if you decide to put Dickens or most adult fantasy in that section 😉

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    • AppelBeay says:

      I don’t know about the whole space issue but about adults wanting to read YA books, maybe the best bet would be for libraries to have the books closer to the entrance to the teen section and the lounging and reading section closer to the back where the adults are not allowed. As a teen and lover of libraries this is a problem I’ve encountered many many times before and it annoys me how little libraries will do to prevent it.

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      • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

        At my old library, the teen section was literally its own so the books were mostly along the walls and the chairs were in the middle of the room. I’m not sure there would have been a way to arrange it so the books were in front. I did see adults in there frequently (unless there was already a group of teens), and I never saw anyone ask them to leave. I think it may be *partially* because the librarians often weren’t even back there and wouldn’t know who was in the room. The shelvers would see, but no college student making minimum wage is going to confront patrons and tell them not to break the rules. I think the only way the adults would be asked to leave is if someone went to the front desk and complained to a staff member.

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  5. Erin @ Paperbackstash says:

    My library has always banned adults and children from their small YA area completely. It’s in closed doors before YA was popular. It’s small and doesn’t have seating areas, they just don’t want adults checking out YA books. They didn’t change this when YA became popular for adults.

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  6. ireadthatinabook says:

    Interesting, I don’t think I have encountered such policies, or the problem. Perhaps it is partly a question of library design? The libraries I’m used to usually have plenty of solitary seats, and culturally we do our best to avoid other people’s personal space (this one is from Finland but illustrative https://finnishnightmares.blogspot.com/2016/01/personal-space-is-valued.html), so there’s no reason to enter the YA section because you want to get away from other adults.

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