OLD SAYBROOK — At the Acton Public Library in Old Saybrook, all children under the age of 12 must be accompanied by an adult.
“It’s been our policy since at least 2004, but it was not enforced,” said Amanda Bouwer, the library director. “We aren’t here to act instead of the parent, so we ask parents with those under 12 to come with them. We just want to make sure everyone is safe and comfortable.”
The child safety policy was reviewed, discussed and reapproved by the library’s board of directors this past November as part of the board’s efforts to review and update all library policies.
The policy, according to Bouwer, is based on state statute and all local libraries – even if they don’t enforce it – have it. However, the statute, which warns parents and guardians that leaving a child under 12 unsupervised in a public place could result in a misdemeanor charge, is not interpreted uniformly in every town.
In Old Lyme, for example, the child safety policy states that middle school students “may use the library unaccompanied by a caregiver.” In Old Saybrook, middle school begins in 5th grade with children starting at age 10. Elementary-age children must be accompanied by another child or adult 15-years-old or older. Unlike Old Saybrook’s policy, it allows high-school-age babysitters to act in the role of an adult for any child.
“We haven’t faced the issue of babysitters yet,” Bouwer said, “but the law and the policy clearly state 18.”
For many parents in Old Saybrook the enforcement of this policy was greeted with frustration.
“In Saybrook, kids in 5th grade are in middle school and are allowed to arrive/leave school without parents, but now cannot go to the library without their parents. Hard to understand why kids can leave school without parents, but can’t go to the library. This change in their policy has been disappointing for our son, who has been going to the library to check out books on his own since he was 8 or 9. Sad to see local kids being discouraged from going to the library, of all places,” wrote Allison Zumwalt Dussault in a Tuesday Facebook post.
Other town residents said the policy could be a violation of the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights which states: “A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.”
“It could be argued that if they must have a parent or guardian there then the minor’s use is being denied, and the minor is just using it as an extension of the parent or guardian,” wrote Marc Stevenson in response to Dussault’s post on facebook.
Bouwer said the policy does not restrict a child’s access because the library hours extend to 8pm on Monday through Thursday and is open on the weekends when they presumably have parents available to accompany them.
“Of course, we don’t card people at the door, if there is a ten-year-old acting appropriately we don’t know that they’re not 12. If they’re acting as a good patron we leave people alone,” Bouwer said.