By roughly one month after patrons began complaining about the behavior of local students at Marian Mohr Library, the Johnston Town Council revisited the issue, asking for an administrative update on efforts to improve the climate at the new facility. While Library Director Jon Anderson believes improvements have been made, some patrons maintain that more needs to be done.
“I do think it’s getting better. We’ve been doing a lot of things to more firmly address the problem,” Anderson said. “Our focus is to make sure that everyone in the library is happy. We do the best we can to make sure everyone gets what they need.”
In the beginning of October, Robert Russo was among the residents complaining about bad behavior by area schoolchildren. Russo brought his young daughter to the library after school one day, and found teenagers eating and drinking in the library, using profanity and speaking loudly to one another throughout the building, including in areas designated for reading and studying.
Raymond Petrone, a 20-year resident of the town, has encountered similar behavior in the past. He has seen teenagers talking on their cell phones inside the library, and young couples acting inappropriately.
“It was utter chaos in that library. It was the most undisciplined place in the world I have ever been,” he said.
Anderson said that Johnston Police have been called to the library several times, which has helped keep younger patrons in line. The School Resource Officers have made a point to stop in unannounced.
Petrone, who is now retired, used to enjoy trips to the library just to pick out new books and read. He now visits the library only in the morning, when students are still in school. He took Anderson to task, holding him responsible for the behavior of the youth patrons.
“I don’t think he deserves to be a librarian,” Petrone said.
Mayor Joseph Polisena agrees that there is a problem. He wants the Mohr Library to be a place where residents of all ages can go and feel comfortable, and suggested that the council monitor the issue, as they appoint the Library Board of Directors that oversees policy at Mohr.
He has also been working with Anderson and the Johnston Police to discourage students from turning the library into their own personal hangout. So far, he has been pleased with discussions and is confident that library staff will be able to turn the problem around.
“As they say, it’s a work in progress,” he said.
Both Polisena and Anderson say that part of that progress is expanding opportunities for students so that they have healthy outlets in the hours after school. Mohr already offers after-school art and animation, crafts and book clubs, and often screens movies. Anderson is looking into starting an after-school music program, and Polisena is working with the Parks and Recreation Department to see if expanding athletic programs is a possibility.
“All options are open,” Polisena.
“We’ll see what they come up with in the broader community,” Anderson added.
Council Vice President Stephanie Manzi said it is a problem that must be monitored closely, but she was satisfied that some efforts had been made to date. Anderson will continue to report to the Town Council as he and his staff work to mitigate inappropriate noise levels and behavior at the library.
“As long as you think it’s improving, that’s the right direction,” Manzi said.
Anderson concedes that it is not an easy problem to solve, and that noise has always been a concern at the town’s only library.
“We’re still going to have problems. It’s always been a problem for the Mohr Library because it’s between the middle school and the high school. It’s a natural place for them to stop off,” he said. “The volume can be disruptive.”
Not only is Mohr located in the backyard of the middle school and across the street from the high school, but it is also the only library in the town, unlike many neighboring communities. In Cranston, for example, students are spread out across six library branches.
As the town continues to address these issues, Anderson says it is a balance between enforcing library policy and still encouraging students to patronize the facility.
“I think a lot of kids view the library as a place to connect with each other,” he said, “for the most part, that’s a positive thing.”