Youth groups 'hanging out' at library have become a liability

The Cloquet Public Library has become the focus of unwanted attention - from groups of young people apparantly looking for a place to "hang out" but with little or no interest in reading or studying.

The Cloquet Public Library has become the focus of unwanted attention - from groups of young people apparantly looking for a place to "hang out" but with little or no interest in reading or studying.

"I think we've become a meeting place for the middle school, the high school and the Area Learning Center," speculated Head Librarian Mary Lukkarila, " - a place for friends to get together to meet, maybe while they're waiting for a ride home. That's what a lot of them say, at least."

The problem, however, reportedly arises from the fact that many of those young people have begun causing problems at the library - both inside and outside - and making a bad name for those who are there with the best of intentions.

"There are kids legitimately here doing homework," acknowleged Lukkarila, "but when these others gather, they become noisy, running around the library, standing outside yelling things at people coming in the library, gathering in front of the door and blocking it to people who want to come in."

She said the groups of young people causing problems at the library are mostly students in fifth to eighth grades, though some are older.


"There are generally many of them in a group," she said, "but there's more than one group of them, too. They come just about every day. The worst time is probably between 4:30 p.m. and 6 p.m., though some also come back closer to 7:30 or so."

Lukkarila and Children's Librarian Lisbet Boutang said the numbers of disruptive young people "hanging out" in or near the library seems to have accelerated over the past year.

"I think this sort of thing happens more at this time of the year because they have established groups and have formed bonds by this point in the school year," said Boutang. "There's a lot of showing off, flirtation and that sort of thing. But there's also a lack of respect for other people, especially older people. It's just what they want to do to entertain themselves. They'll run around the library and bother others who are trying to do some work, and if we suggest something to them, they'll just laugh it off. They're not very respectful of authority."

"Except when I started reading 'Johnny Appleseed...'!" added Lukkarila. "They were in the library causing problems one day, and I told them they'd better be here to read or study, or else they'd have to leave. One of them said he didn't know how to read, so I said, 'OK, then I'll read to you.' When I did, they went outside and started gathering in front of the door, so I took my book out there and began to read once again. Then they went to the other side of the parking lot until I left. But then they came back."

Lukkarila said she has called the police to complain about the groups of kids causing problems and intimidating patrons of the library, but added the young people scatter when they see the authorities coming - and return after they leave.

Assistant Police Chief Terry Hill said when officers have confronted some of the young people, they have taken their names and the names of their parents and given them a first-time warning.

"If the same ones return and are causing problems, however," said Hill, "they can be cited with trespassing."

"The library doesn't have to be a quiet place - in fact, it isn't a quiet place any longer - but it doesn't have to be disruptive to other people who are trying to do their work," said Boutang. "There's a lot of rudeness that goes on with these groups, as well as a lack of respect for authority and other people's space and what they're doing here. They pick up things and shove them in different places in the library. They take the magazines off the rack and hide them someplace else. Or they'll take books off the shelves and put them back in other places and think it's funny. They know what buttons to push."


She said young people are also smoking out in front of the library, and added she hopes that will stop after the new county ordinance takes effect in June that prohibits anyone from smoking in front of a public building.

Lukkarila said staff members at the library have had people complain that they're afraid to come in because the groups of kids are jumping back and forth between the benches out front, yelling things at them, swearing or getting into fights with each other and then coming into the library building to hide.

In addition, the library's new book drop, which has only been up for about two weeks, has already been damaged by someone dropping something hot into it, such as a lit cigarette or a match, burning a hole in the plastic liner inside. Lukkarila said as a result, the library plans to put up security cameras in the vicinity of the book drop as a deterrant to such vandalism.

"It's a shame we're going to have to do something like that," said Lukkarila, "but it is apparantly necessary."

"We welcome kids of all ages here," she added, "but not for horseplay. I'm concerned whether this has become a problem because there have been cutbacks in after-school programs or because kids simply don't have anything better to do."

"I'd be looking for a volunteer who would offer an activity for them if we thought it would help," stated Lukkarila. "I'd like to see that energy channeled in a positive, rather than a negative, way, because otherwise it can only get worse."

Despite all of the recent problems, the staff at the library remains hopeful the situation can be remedied - through public awareness, parental concern and an inherent belief in the worth of the young people themselves.

"I'd say one on one, most of them are probably very nice young people," Lukkarila admitted, "but I think it's the group dynamic that's working against them."


Pine Journal Publisher/ reporter Wendy Johnson can be contacted at: .

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