Thursday, January 19, 2006

This place is f#%@ing great!, or, Swearing in the library

Some colleagues may be surprised to learn that we have adopted a policy that tolerates swearing in our new youth space/youth library ( *YL see earlier posts for more info.) Yes even the f word - possibly even the c word - as long as it is not used in a threatening or harrassing way. We adopted this policy in consultation with our youth reference group who felt that a) it was a part of youth culture and b) you're not going to be able to prevent it without alienating a large proportion of the youth population by creating a "goody two shoes" atmosphere. And in general it's working well. OK we had to put a stop to one gentleman loudly proclaiming his arrival by announcing "S#&* my *%##!", and that's where having the space as an equal partnership between Youth Services and Library Services comes in handy - the youth worker is able to form a close relationship with young people with issues that are not strictly library staff business (although the resources of the library may eventually play a role in helping such young people).

Picking up on a post by Connecting Librarian, I can tell you a little about the resources in the space. We have a games room where individuals and small groups can play console games (we have all three platforms available); a computer room with 6 computers - we loaded up Runescape and Messaging on all - and we take suggestions all the time about other loads - also Cybersitter which so far has worked fantastically well (I was originally a skeptic of filtering software but I've been converted). This is of course in constant use. We also have a big plasma screen TV with a subscription to pay TV channel Austar - South Park, Family Guy and the music channels are the most popular viewing. The only restriction we have is on playing or viewing MA15+ programs in the space - although DVDs and console games with this rating are available for loan to over 14s - because we cater for 13+ and legally we are not allowed to expose under 15s to MA+ material. And for kids waiting for a turn on the computers or the consoles, we have portable Nintendo DS games which they can hire out (for use in the space only). Oh, or they can also browse magazines, or read from our great collection of graphic novels - and you'll be pleased to hear, they do!! Down the track we will offer more structured activities eg games nights, events, workshops, homework help, career advice....In fact, for Australia Day we are having a Singstar Dance Party and karaoke but more on that later...
Needless to say young people think this place is great and sometimes they express this colourfully. But one thing that I've come to realize is that what we offer, being media based, is all fairly cerebral - and there are young people who aren't necessarily interested in or capable of extended cerebral activities - and these are potentially our "problem" customers. One of the most consistent requests we have had is for the installation of a pool table. Unfortunately space is so limited that this is pretty much impossible at this time. This is where the debate between "is/should it be a library/ is/should it be a youth space" gets interesting.

And the other challenge is encouraging the cross over from youth space/library to main library, especially if your youth library services are provided in a physical location remote from the main library, so the connection isn't obvious. I need time to ruminate about that one so I'll leave it for another post.

Speaking of policies, we realized that we neglected to specify a dress policy, after one customer came in shirtless (he actually came in shirtless specifically that day so that he could wear the *YL T-Shirt we were giving away). I have suggested that our dress policy be "You must be dressed - nudity will not be tolerated." Do we really care if they're wearing shoes?


  • F@#$ yeah! I just ran across your blog thanks to Morgan, and I was so delighted to come across this post. I had the great good fortune to spend my teenage years hanging out in a youth center that sounds, in spirit, a lot like your YL. Swearing was okay; disrespecting other people was not--and it worked remarkably well.

    It's not, I should add, that I'm just in favor of swearing--I'm just in favor of providing places for kids where they get to be themselves.

    By Anonymous Laura, at 11:09 AM  

  • Thanks Laura for your endorsement. I noticed that some of our regular YL users came into the "real" library today, and I was a bit on edge due to their propensity to use colourful language, around older customers who don't share this cultural trait ...but I needn't have worried,they toned down their usual behaviour quite automatically.

    By Blogger Deb, at 6:16 PM  

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    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:45 PM  

  • For some, being "allowed" to use swear words takes the mystique away, so kids won't swear just to get attention, which is often the case.

    But who cares if they wear shirts or not? It's meant to be a relaxing place to hang out, not a 5-star restaurant.

    By Anonymous Ryan, at 12:48 AM  

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