Capacity issues put library in an after-school bind
Fire codes cap the number of children allowed in at one time.
By ELISABETH DYER
Published January 12, 2007
Fourteen-year-old Leonard Spies was in a tree. Ashlyn Hendrickson, 12, took his picture in front of a sign that read "No Loitering."
Yes, he was loitering. So were about two dozen more kids on the lawn of Seminole Heights Library on Monday afternoon. Another two dozen were inside.
A fire marshal set library capacity at 49 in November. Since then, once the library is full, an off-duty deputy admits a patron for each one who leaves. Before, up to 120 people - mostly unaccompanied children - crowded into the 6,000-square-foot building after school.
It's a problem for many urban libraries. Seminole Heights sits across the street from Memorial Middle and Hillsborough High schools, and Broward Elementary is nearby.
Some students leave school, come in the library door at 3 p.m. and stay until it closes at 9 p.m., library officials say.
"What we really need is a bigger and better library," said Susan Oliver, chief librarian of urban libraries and youth services for Hillsborough County.
The county may add a fire exit to the Seminole Heights branch, which would increase capacity to 83.
Oliver recently attended a national conference for urban libraries that focused on after-school hours.
"It's become a hot topic," she said. "It's not fair to children to have them sit at a library for hours and hours waiting for their parents to pick them up."
Oliver hopes to join with city or county recreation departments to offer enriching programs. She sends mobile wireless labs and staffers to several Tampa libraries near schools.
Across the country, libraries cope differently. A New Jersey library has decided to close for two hours each afternoon. Last year, an Ohio library banned unaccompanied children under 14 after school.
Inside the Seminole Heights branch, library officials do a lot of shushing. Besides that, they say, problems include some horse play. Some students refuse to leave when admonished. An occasional weapon is confiscated.
Maybe keeping order is easier because librarians know most kids by name. That's not surprising. They spend up to 30 hours a week together.
Times researcher Angie Drobnic Holan contributed to this article. Elisabeth Dyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 813 226-3321.
Voice your opinion
The next library board meeting is 4 p.m. Jan. 25 at the Charles J. Fendig Library, 3909 W Neptune St. The next planning committee meeting is 3 p.m. Jan. 23 in the boardroom of the John F. Germany Library, 900 N Ashley Drive.
[Last modified January 11, 2007, 09:01:48]
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