The Kenai Community Library cannot give an espresso and a kitten to every unattended child as some coffee shops jokingly warn, but measures need to be taken to assure parents watch their kids, according to the library director.
"This summer a 3-year-old (girl) ran out into the parking lot and almost got hit by a car," said Mary Jo Joiner. "Twice, people said they found the (same) kid in the parking lot."
On Wednesday, the Kenai City Council gave its unanimous endorsement to a new Unattended Children policy implemented by Kenai's public library.
"Responsibility for children using the library rests at all times with the parent (or parents) or assigned caregiver, not with library personnel," the policy states.
Children younger than 8 years old must now be attended by a parent or caregiver the entire time they are in the library.
Library staff feels responsible, Joiner said, "and we would just feel awful if something did happen in the parking lot."
"If there's no policy, staff feels they don't know what they can do," she said.
In addition to kids running out the door and into the parking lot, Joiner said one child was climbing on tables in the library where people were studying.
"We're trying to keep the library as a place where everybody feels comfortable," she said.
Another problem for library staff members arises when a parent drops a child off at the library and then fails to return to pick up the child before closing time.
The new policy says, while the library is not responsible for supervising children left alone after closing, staff members will attempt to contact a parent for immediate pick up, or, if it occurs repeatedly, police will be called.
"If there's no policy saying you'll call the police, you're stuck," Joiner said. "You can't take the kid home."
Parents also frequently leave their children in the children's section of the library and then go off to another area of the library such as the public-use computers, and fail to monitor their kids' activity.
"The policy says, '... must be continually attended by a parent ... while in the library," Joiner said.
Depending on the time of year, the library can have as many as 60 children present at one time, especially in the summer, Joiner said, and during a typical "story hour," 10 to 25 might be there.
"During 'story hour,' it's in an enclosed area," Joiner said, adding that the children are less likely to climb on furniture or do other unsafe things and are less likely to be disruptive to other library users.
With the new policy in effect, library staff members may intervene if they are aware of disruptive behavior.
If children are unattended, the staff is unable to know whether a child leaves the library with his or her parent, or with a stranger.
The policy should ensure child safety while maintaining a pleasant environment, Joiner said.
Phil Hermanek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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