Thursday, August 03, 2006

Trouble at...the Library?

The latest on an ever-growing list of "issues" facing our ever-growing town is that of teachers tutoring students in the public library. Apparently, there have been some complaints of the noise level and the lack of table seating/space available during the day. So now that complaints have been made, the library has chosen to enforce a policy it already had in place, one that states patrons cannot use the public library as a way to make a monetary profit.

This situation immediately brings to mind two questions: Is this an issue of noise and space, or one of individuals conducting business in a public place? And, if there is a policy already in place, why has it been overlooked and ignored, but now becomes worth enforcing?

If this is an issue of noise and space, it could be easily remedied by something as simple as restricting tutoring time to certain hours. Perhaps even limit the space made available to the tutors and students. Of course there would be details of how to figure out who gets time and when, but that sort of thing could be negotiated after putting such a policy in place.

If this is an issue about individuals making a profit in a public building, then it really isn't about the noise and space at all, and let's just call it what it is. I mean, if these tutors provided their services for free, would that change the noise levels and amount of space they take up? Nope. So suddenly enforcing a policy that prohibits individuals from profiting from work in a public building doesn't make sense in this case, unless the problem is the money-making aspect.

If it is, then I ask--what the hell's wrong with people? Sure, these tutors are making money. But I'll bet no one's getting rich off of it, nor is that their goal. Despite having serious doubts about the intentions and integrity of some people who sit on boards in this town, I hold onto the belief that the teachers who choose to tutor in the summer do so because they know there are a lot of children who need the extra attention and help. There's no crime in being paid for their time; don't we all believe our time is valuable? It isn't as if we've got insurance salesmen lurking about the stacks, just waiting to pounce on the next unsuspecting patron as she browses for a romance novel. I can't recall ever having seen a hooker, ambulance chaser--or anyone else who makes his living preying on people--at the library, at least, not while they were on the clock. These are teachers, teaching kids who need taught, in the most logical location for their purpose.

Libraries across America allow tutoring to take place on the premises. Yes, I know these libraries probably have more money, more space, more everything necessary to make the tutoring as least invasive of other patrons' visits as possible. But this is Windsor. We are no longer a small town, and we need to stop acting like we are. Looking the other way when a policy is broken is not a good idea, no matter what the policy is, no matter if we know the people who are in violation of it. If an organization is going to take time to develop rules, it ought to adhere to them or get rid of them.

But let's stop confusing the issues here. A patron (possibly more...I don't know) complained about noise and lack of table space. The policy that was suddenly enforced was one based on the aspect of making money, not on how noisy certain patrons were. Had the tutors and students kept the noise level down, the library would still be allowing them to violate the policy. That wouldn't be right. On the other hand, if the teachers were giving their services away instead of demanding monetary compensation, they wouldn't be breaking any private business policy. So would they still be allowed to tutor in the library, perhaps with a warning that they need to be more quiet? That wouldn't be right either; these professionals deserve to be paid for their services.

And while it's easy to say "let them teach in their homes," that's just not the ideal situation. Aside from any personal reasons that might interfere with tutoring at home, the fact remains that teachers aren't paid a salary that allows them to build a home reference library that includes the resources readily available in a public library.

My first job as a teen was in a public library just slightly bigger than the one in Windsor. Even then, in the early 1980s, the library was not a place of silence. When I was working, I'd see various groups of kids from school who'd come there to study and complete homework. And they were loud. When I needed to research, I headed to the library. We didn't have computers and the Internet then; all our research came from books, magazines, and microfilm. Sigh... I'm old. Anyway, even then, the library was a lively place. That it still is, is not something to complain about. And yet I understand that some patrons want (need?) a modicum of tranquility to get from their library what they need.

The library board says it wants to work with these teachers, and I believe them. By "work" I hope they mean listen to the tutors and take into consideration who they are what they're trying to do. I hope they deal with the issue head-on, looking at it for what it is, and not try to force a solution from a one-size-is-supposed-to-fit-all policy that probably was never a great idea to begin with. Kids have always needed libraries, and libraries have always put out the clarion call to kids. That much hasn't changed.

And I hope it never does.

No comments: