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CCPL board discusses unattended child policy

By Jessica Jones Paine/For Murray Ledger & Times*

MURRAY – Times have changed. That was the overarching message behind an emotional discussion of the Calloway County Public Library’s unattended child policy during its Board of Trustees meeting last week as library staff defended the policy and explained their concerns to the board.

“It’s important for people to understand because this gets emotionally charged, and it reads – or it sounds like – the library’s against children,” Board President Lance Allison said. “The library’s not against children, but the library’s for everyone. So, everyone has to be taken into account with this, and that includes our older population, it includes the general public, it includes children.”

A local mother, Ashley Holliday, spoke against the CCPL’s unattended child policy during the public comment period at the beginning of the meeting. Her daughters Corinne and Lyla were present as well. Holliday, who was previously unfamiliar with the policy, explained that, after the library reopened in July, she allowed her daughters to go there alone. For one week, the girls visited the library by themselves before staff noticed and told them they could not come back without an adult.

“For the week that they were allowed to come up here by themselves, it was amazing. And all I heard about was how magical it was and how many books they picked out. They looked up the books on their own; they didn’t have to have my help. And it breaks my heart now that they’re not allowed to come up here unless I am coming up here with them because that takes away part of the magic of coming up here and being old enough and mature enough to come here. I feel – I have a fifth grader and a seventh grader – that they are old enough and mature enough.”

Holliday said the girls, who had previously asked to go to the library daily, had not mentioned going there since being told they had to have adult supervision and added, “That broke my heart because y’all spent so much money and time to build this beautiful library and now the audience – this is what you want; you want to instill this in them at an early age – aren’t allowed to come here unless they have a parent that wants to bring them up here.”

“I loved going to the library over the summer all by myself,” Lyla said. “… I loved the way I felt coming and looking for my own book, and I want everyone to feel like that, specifically kids under 18.”

A discussion of the policy was included on the agenda. Before the discussion began, the board allowed library staff to express their thoughts. Three employees prepared multi-page statements, which they read aloud during the meeting. 

Much of their testimony centered around problems with Murray Middle School students after school, which largely motivated CCPL to institute its unattended child policy several years ago. Before the policy was instituted, the library essentially became a child care center from 3 p.m. until around 6 p.m.

One librarian, Diane, outlined many of the disrespectful behaviors that were commonplace at the time, such as “arguing about the rules, ignoring instructions, giving staff the middle finger, hitting each other, sneaking up on staff in the stacks to startle them, throwing things at staff as they worked in the stacks, setting fires outside of the library, defacing library furniture and walls, threatening staff with parental retribution when asked to follow library rules and policies, fighting, climbing on landscaping and trees and leaving trash around the library.”

The second librarian to speak, Pam, did not work at CCPL prior to the policy in place. Instead, she told trustees about the behaviors she has observed from middle-school-aged children since the July reopening, many of whom had a parent present, such as “running throughout the library, loudly using obscene language, placing feet – both bare and shoed – on the furniture, being very disrespectful to staff and chasing and being chased by other children.”

Those kinds of behaviors are not only problematic for staff, but they are also disruptive and bothersome to other patrons. While both are unacceptable, librarians have a far greater concern when it comes to having children in the library without adult supervision, and that is safety.

“I’d like to open with a recent example,” Pam continued. “During our open house on Sunday, the 2nd of July, we had a patron – who is known to us as someone to ‘keep an eye on’ – was following the children around, frightening them and then threatening our staff and other patrons as well. Her behavior was such that she had to be asked to leave. These children were uncomfortable, and they were with their parents.

“If the parents are not here, there is not enough staff in this building to constantly watch every single inch of the place and be able to perform our duties as librarians. If a patron were to approach a child back here in this foyer (referring to the back entrance of the building), anywhere in any of the bathrooms, in the Quiet Reading Room, even places in the children’s area, we cannot see these areas from the front desk; and it is a safety concern. We want to make sure that these children are safe when they are at the library.”

Processing Assistant Madeah Daubert advised that, based on her 15 years working at CCPL, she would never let her seventh-grade stepdaughter visit the library alone.

“I have had individuals watch and know exactly what time of day I came into work and watch to see and make comments on the number of bags I carried in that day, like my purse, lunchbox, work bag,” she said. “I have been cornered in the shelves and at the desk by individuals asking me inappropriate questions and making comments that have made me feel uncomfortable. … I have been here when police come in, looking for individuals, and have been here when they have found who they were looking for and arrested them. I have also had individuals become agitated to the point of becoming hostile.

“Staff did not have eyes and ears on every nook and cranny in the old building; we definitely do not have eyes everywhere in this new building. As a mother, I don’t want to put her in a situation where her safety could be at risk because I am not there to watch out for her or get her to safety if need be. I’m also not going to send her somewhere to stay where there is little adult supervision or not enough supervision for the number of kids.”

“You shouldn’t have to babysit everyone’s kids,” Holliday said. “I’m just saying to take away a special opportunity for children to come in and actually be able to explore. I’ve never found Murray to be a dangerous spot. I moved back here because I lived in Virginia Beach and wanted to raise my kids here because this is a safe spot.”

With that, the board began its discussion of the policy. Secretary Debbie Bell noted receiving several complaints from parents on the subject and proposed a revised policy. In Bell’s proposal, the policy would be in full force and effect after school from 3-4 p.m. during the school year; however, students in sixth, seventh or eighth grade could be unsupervised in the library at other times for up to two hours, provided the child and their parent signed a contract stating they understand the rules and that if the child breaks the rules, they will not be allowed to come back without adult supervision.

“We don’t have to put up with bad behavior, but I don’t think a group of badly behaved children should penalize all the kids in the county that want to come to the library,” Bell said. “I’m not wanting to put a burden on librarians, but I think (about) my experience as a child, (Trustee Vonnie Hays-Adams’) experience as a child and many others… if we take away their joy of going to the library when they’re 12, 13 years old, they’ll never come back; and I don’t want that to happen.”

“I understand,” said CCPL Executive Director Mignon Rutledge. “I was allowed to come here, and my purpose was to come and read books; but I also had friends that that was not the purpose. You know, I felt like my children were good children, but you put them in a crowd or with a group – doesn’t even have to be a crowd – and they’re kissing on the couch.”

“You guys are not the problem,” Rutledge said directly to Holliday’s daughters. “You come in; you look for books; we barely even know you’re here.”

“On the same hand,” she continued, “I only have so many staff. They cannot watch (everyone). We’ve had people… Some guy trapped a little boy in the bathroom, and he just so happened to get away. They’re on the internet, meeting guys, meeting girls; we have that. We have two or three patrons that come that have mental illness, and we’re on alert if we see them come in. ‘If we see them come in’ is the issue. I don’t want to be a place where somebody’s child is molested, or this is the last place they’re seen.

“And I understand; I grew up like you (referring to Holliday); I ran all over Murray, on my bicycle, walking in groups and stuff like that. We’ve had so many incidents where the police are coming in saying ‘If you see this person on the computer, they are a child molester. They’ve had somebody chained under their sink.’ It’s here in Murray. It is here. Our concern is not your girls; it’s the safety of your girls.”

The discussion was redirected to Bell’s proposed revisions.

“I really think we need to find a middle ground instead of a sweeping policy that bans all students,” Bell said. “We need to make some exceptions. If a kid is willing to come in here and visit the librarian and bring their mom and sign a contract with both of them and know that if they don’t follow the rules, they’re out; I think that’s fair. One time and then they’re gone. … So, if there is any part of this we can adopt, I would be OK with that.”

“Our mission is to provide this opportunity for the community,” Allison said. “When people say, ‘I pay my taxes,’ yeah, you’re right; you do, and it gives you the right to enjoy a library. But it gives you the right to enjoy a safe library; it does not give you the right to impose harm on paid staff. So, our responsibility as the board is not just to the general public, it is to the staff. And the staff is not a daycare facility. … I do like the idea of the contract, that if you’ve signed a contract, you understand there’s consequences to the contract and that means you’re kicked out.”

Before concluding the discussion, Rutledge, again, turned to Holliday’s daughters and asked them what they thought policy should be. Lyla said she thought the contract was a good idea.

Then, upon motion from Trustee Riley Ramsey, the board voted to table the discussion until the next meeting to allow board members and library staff to review the proposed policy revision.

In other business, Rutledge advised that she and Business Manager Wyneth Herrington have been working with Sarah Fineman and Chasity Bryant with Safety Training and Environmental Protection, LLC (STEP), Fire Marshal Greg Molinar and Building Official Marisa Stewart to develop an emergency action plan, which includes an evacuation plan with maps and posting capacity signage for rooms.

In the construction update, 5352 Design Group President Chris Cottongim reported crews have approximately 10 items remaining on the punch list. The board approved Pay Application #25 in the amount of $7,972.40. He reminded the board that CCPL is withholding almost $376,000 in retainage until the punch list is complete.

There were no change orders for direct purchase orders. Cottongim called that “a good sign” and said, “When DPOs are gone that’s a good thing because you’ve paid for all your materials.”

In the financial report, Herrington reported around $355,000 remains in the construction account, $205,000 the emergency contingency fund, $815,000 in the building reserve fund, nearly $1.3 in the money market account and $77,000 in checking. A very generous donation to the Beyond the Bricks campaign brought the total amount raised to $27,962. At the end of August, CCPL held $2.7 million in cash and investments.

The Friends of the Library annual meeting was Sunday at 2 p.m. at the library. The group is organizing a book sale to take place on Oct. 21; times will be announced at a later date.

The next library board meeting will be at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 10, at the library. 

*This article was reprinted with permission from the Murray Ledger & Times.

Sentinel Staff

Jessica Paine
I’m Jessica Paine, founder of The Murray Sentinel. You may know me from my time as a citizen journalist, running the Calloway Covid-19 Count page on Facebook, or you may be familiar with my more recent work for another local news outlet. Being that I’m “from here,” you may have known me since I was “knee-high to a grasshopper,” although you knew me as Jessica Jones. But whether you know me or not, I’m glad you found your way here.

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