Madison's library board is hitting the books, the rule books, that is. Librarians are seeing more unsupervised children after school. Now they are refreshing their policies to help cope with the influx.
The board drafted a change in policy last week, but libraries in other states are taking more extreme actions. New Jersey closed one of its libraries for a few hours after school each day. Administrators are now considering hiring security guards there.
It has not come to that here, but soon younger kids will need an adult or older sibling with them. Dozens of kids from both Toki Middle School and Orchard Ridge Elementary find Meadowridge Library on the city's southwest side just a short walk down the road. If the kids are not heading home, they are hitting the next best place.
"We have more working parents and so to use an old terminology, 'latch-key kids', we have a lot of kids that are coming to our libraries looking for a safe space," says library board member Annette Miller.
"I see some kids that are not supervised who are running all over and you know making noise," says parent Donna Maysack. "I think it's hard for people to study or read."
Madison libraries have had a behavior policy in place for years. Near the end of last year, the board decided it was time for a refresher. Its new policy would prohibit kids younger than seven from using the library unless they have an adult or older sibling with them.
"I think it's a good policy because they're not babysitters," says Maysack. "I actually think they could raise that age limit a little bit."
Librarians hope the new policy improves behavior outside the facilities, too. Employees at Meadowridge say they have had to call police as a result of fights in the parking lot and at a nearby bus stop.
"If we see that there is some scuffle or loud, rowdy behavior out there, occasionally we will ask the police to just drive by and keep an eye on the kids for us," says Library Branch Manager Heidi Marzen.
Right now, Meadowridge and other smaller facilities are keeping a closer eye by adding at least one extra staff member to meet and greet kids at the door on weekday afternoons. Librarians and parents hope it works.
"We definitely want to encourage them to continue to come to the library," says Miller. "We want them to see the library as a safe space for them."
The City Attorney is currently reviewing the policy. Librarians encourage parents to accompany their child at any age and many locations are adding structured clubs and programming to keep kids focused.