Libraries are many different things to many different people. They offer services to patrons from infancy through old age, and in doing so they must keep the needs of everyone in mind.
That can create hard feelings, as Deschutes Public Library officials learned last summer when a patron charged that the library had discriminated against him because of his age. He had been reading in an area set aside for teenage users, because it had the most comfortable chairs. He was asked to find somewhere else to sit.
The state Bureau of Labor and Industry investigated and found that no discrimination had occurred. Meanwhile, Library Director Todd Dunkelberg did not ignore the complaint. New, more comfortable furniture was purchased for other seating areas in the library.
In the end, it’s difficult to see what else the library could do. Its mission is to provide library services for the residents of Deschutes County, no matter their age. Teens are no doubt more likely to use those services if they can gather with others of their own age without a bunch of silence-loving adults there, as well.
We’ve all been to a restaurant or movie theater where a crying baby or group of young patrons enjoying themselves more noisily than we might like has made the experience uncomfortable. We can remember, too, our own teenage years, when the adults we knew disliked our clothes, our chattiness, our laughter.
There’s also a question of safety, though that may be a larger concern in the children’s library. While library employees are not baby sitters, they are aware of who is in what space, as they should be.
It’s the recognition that the needs of teens and adults are not identical that led library staff to create an area for teens. And it’s the recognition that some furniture was uncomfortable that led to the choices made when it was replaced. In both cases, library staff were simply working to make a diverse population of patrons happy.