Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Sudbury Teens Should Do Direct Action "Read-In" At Public Library

The main branch of the Sudbury Public Library has decided to deal with a small number of disruptive individuals by banning all teenagers from their facility during weekdays, according to a Sudbury Star article.

The background is that a small number of young people have been, in the words of manager of libraries and heritage resources Claire Zuliani, "quite disruptive. They have little respect for our property and our staff. To the point where some of our staff are afraid to come to work."

Okay, fair enough, that needs to be dealt with somehow, though I think reports about fear of youth, who often get unfairly stigmatized as dangerous, should be examined with a bit of a critical eye. And as Sudbury Secondary student Kyle Chapados is quoted as saying, "But it's not fair to the rest. How many were really causing these problems? There seems like there could be a better way of dealing with it than just banning all students."

Exactly. An individual is a problem? Ban them from the library for a year, then. But, no, Zuliani insists on using rhetoric based in youth as a class being a problem. For instance, she says, "We've had kids break into cars." Do you know that it is these same kids who have been disruptive inside? Has someone been charged and convicted? If so, how is a ban going to convey something that conviction for breaking into the car has not done? If not, how do you know it was a kid? Or are you just assuming that it is a young person? She even uses the inflammatory language of "take back our library," again keeping in mind this is used in the context of all youth being banned from the place during certain hours. Lovely.

Apparently, youth who are using the library in ways of which management approves will be allowed back in at some point, but it is unclear when or under what conditions. The people who will be most affected by this will, of course, be the vast majority of young people who use the library space in non-disruptive ways. The article says that Zuliani expects that the ban will teach young people some respect, which is ridiculous. It will probably teach the handful of people who have been disruptive very little, and it will teach the rest that libraries hate teenagers, or maybe that public space is not meant for youth. Which are just great lessons for our public libraries to be teaching.

I think it would be great if a group of youth were to address this by taking some direct action. Get a group together, both teenagers and older folks. Go in to the public library en masse, sit down silently and start reading. Be polite, follow whatever code of conduct they have, but refuse to leave. Have someone fax the media just as your group is entering the library. Have supporters outside with signs saying things like, "Youth are not the problem" and "It's my library too," and have spokespeople outside to deal with the media when they show up.

And if you need some help figuring out the logistics, I know some people who have some experience with that sort of thing.


SR said...

Is this even legal? How can a *public* library deny access to patrons based on age???

the rev. paperboy said...

Replace the words "kids" and "teens" and "youths" with "blacks" or "jews" and see how the library staff members comments read.
And that's before we get into whether the library really wants to start discouraging teens from reading and using the library.
The Morons are everywhere.

Scott said...

SR: I'm not sure what the legalities are, though it certainly leaves the library wide open for a complaint of age discrimination under Ontario human rights legislation. Though generally speaking human rights complaints are very inefficient ways to change things.

rev. paperboy: Yes, that had occurred to me as well, but I think it is important to be very, very careful about making that kind of argument, and generally I look for other ways to make the point before I go there. But the Morons are indeed everywhere.

Scott said...

(Btw, I should mention that I found the Star article via Green Sudbury.)

ansel said...

We did a read-in a few years ago at the school district headquarters to launch our ultimately successful campaign to have the district strictly regulate military recruitment in schools. It was great! Stand up Sudbury!

Suzanne said...

At first glance, this looks like an exercise in reverse psychology.

Scott said...

Hey ansel: That sounds like a great campaign!

Suzanne: Yes, I can understand why it might appear like that. Unfortunately, it's for real.

Coldo said...

I live in Sudbury...and know about this situation first hand. The director of the library was being very, very diplomatic so let me make this clear.

Distruptive involved the following: Screaming and calling the library staff "fucking cunts", breaking into staff cars (caught on video tape I might add), having sex in the middle of the day in the now defunct "teen room", selling drugs in the bathroom, and destroying books. Police were called, nothing was done. Library staff were threatening to quit.

Let me also clarify that these kids are only banned from the library DURING SCHOOL HOURS! They should be in school! When 4 oclock or the weekend hits...they are permitted in the library.

In addition to the Ontario Human Rights Code...there is such a thing as Occupational Health and Safety...which the librarians are entitled to.

Scott said...

Hi Coldo. Thanks for providing additional details. Like I said, I completely agree that the things that you describe need to be dealt with. Library workers need a safe environment and people wanting to use the library need to be able to use it. I simply do not accept, however, that doing that requires banning an entire class of people rather than the much more intuitive approach of regulating behaviours. There are better and worse ways to do that too, of course, and I would hope that whatever standards were used would be arrived at in equitable and participatory ways. But the idea that a public institution is completely unable to regulate its space based on behaviour rather than group membership is simply not credible.

As I said above, this is punishing the vast majority of youth who are not a problem based simply on their age.

As for the argument that they should be in school, I don't think that in any way justifies the library's response. There are teens who do not attend school, for whatever reason. There are teens who are homeschooled. There are teens who have spare. There are teens who may choose to ditch class to finish a project, or who may wish to get some work done while on suspension or something like that. I think it is ridiculous to ban all of these people because of the actions of a small group. Moreover, even for youth who are skipping class, I wouldn't want the library to get involved in trying to clamp down on that. And, frankly, provided they are not disrupting library functioning, I can think of a lot worse places for youth who are skipping to be than the public library.

So, yes, for sure something needs to happen to ensure that there is a safe and healthy environment in the library. But it does not need to demonize or punish youth as a group -- it needs to respond to the behaviours of individuals who are being disruptive.