Students book it to the library
With nowhere else to go, students socialize among the stacks.
During geometry class at Patrick Henry High School, a group of friends often joke with one another about what they'll do after school.
"Are you going to the homeless shelter today?" freshman Alex Talin will ask her friends.
Talin and her pals are referring to the Raleigh Court Library Branch, which is adjacent to the school.
The girls go there almost every day because they have nowhere else to go while they wait, sometimes for hours, for their parents to get off work and pick them up.
The girls and a dozen other students congregate in and outside the library, chatting and using the computers. They can get loud, and others in the library are sometimes frustrated that it's not the quiet place they expect it to be.
The Raleigh Court branch is one of many in Roanoke that acts as an after-school day care of sorts. Like all branch libraries in Roanoke, the Raleigh Court branch is next to a school, making it easily accessible to students.
The Salem Public Library, too, is overwhelmed with as many as 40 students after school.
"I feel like it's an ad hoc teen center," said Janis Augustine, director of the Salem library. Because the librarians have to keep an eye on the students, they can't work as efficiently, she said. "It's somewhat frustrating because I know the kids need a place to go and blow off steam. They really don't have any other place to go."
The Salem library is working with the city, schools and police to address the problem.
Last school year, Salem DARE officers began patrolling the library a few days a week, said Lt. Tim Guthrie of the Salem police.
"The biggest thing is the kids just become loud and disruptive for a library setting," Guthrie said.
In Roanoke, school resource officers will assist the library with disruptive students, but it's the library's responsibility to manage the students, said Officer Rodger Hogan, a resource officer at Patrick Henry.
"We're not the Dewey Decimal detectives," he said.
Not all students cause problems.
But others make it obvious they're not there for the books.
"I don't even really like to read," said Danikka Laya, a Patrick Henry freshman.
Most students go online, updating their myspace.com pages, playing computer games or checking out the latest cellphone accessories.
They gather around computers, laughing and pointing at pictures. Others loiter outside if the weather's nice, catching up with friends or sneaking a cigarette.
One patron, Mildred Weddle of Roanoke County, said she enjoys being around the children and hearing them laugh. One even helped her when she had car trouble Thursday.
Another patron, though, said she avoids the Raleigh Court branch library during after-school hours because of the students.
"They take up all the computers and there's nothing for the little kids to do," said Sheila Pauley, a mother of two.
Patrons and librarians may voice their displeasure, but the library is a public place.
Librarians or officers can ask a disruptive student to leave, but their only other methods of enforcement are stern looks and verbal scoldings.
"The librarians freak us out because they just kind of stare at us," Talin said. "They are not really polite."
Signs around the library also seem to hint that it's not OK to use the library as a day care.
"No trespassing," read signs mounted on the outside of the Roanoke libraries.
Another sign, this one posted near the checkout counter at Raleigh Court, advises that, "Although we are concerned about the wellbeing and safety of children, Library staff cannot assume responsibility for care or supervision of children ..."
For parents, though, it is a comfort knowing their kids are in a safe place.
"I would prefer her to be here than out running around the block getting into trouble," said Joan Novoa of her 14-year-old daughter, Kelly Considine, who usually goes to the Williamson Road branch after school.
Sheila Umberger, director of Roanoke libraries, said she is thrilled that the students come to the library and wants to do more to accommodate them.
"It's very important for our kids to be respected and given a place to be," she said.
She acknowledged that their presence can create a problem for librarians and patrons, and she said the library is working toward solutions.
The Roanoke library is collaborating with school officials and resource officers to set guidelines for the students.
One solution the Raleigh Court branch and police have recently put into place is a barring program. If a student is disruptive, police are called and give the student a form banning them from the library. If the student returns, he or she could be charged with trespassing.
Hogan said no students at the Raleigh Court branch have been charged in the two or three weeks the program has been in place.
The Roanoke library is also adding a security guard to its staff because Umberger believes it will help patrons feel more comfortable.
"We want to make the location a good one for everyone," Umberger said.
Umberger said she would like to provide the teens with more multimedia activities, such as listening stations and laptop labs.
"We want to make it a cool place," she said.
Some branches have already taken steps to accommodate students.
The Williamson Road branch has rearranged computers to create separate stations for adults and students.
The Gainsboro branch created a teen club, Gainsboro Truth, whose members participate in programs that cover topics such as building character and respecting the library.
The main library is in the process of establishing a teen center, which should be in place by summer.
"We've always encouraged kids to come in," Umberger said. "When I look at it, we're just trying to improve our services."