Public library officials concerned about child safety

By Julie Fann
star staff

Elizabethton Public Library officials said Friday they are concerned about parents who leave their children unattended in the building or drop them off alone. Public library director Joyce White said she thinks parents sometimes forget the library is a public place.
   "We're just concerned about the safety of the kids. We haven't had any major incidences, but we don't always know the patrons who are here; we don't know their background. We just want to emphasize to parents that they need to be here with their children," White said.
   White said parents need to realize that dropping their kids off at the library is the same thing as dropping them off at Wal-Mart or any other public place. Probably a few times a week, parents drop their children off at the library, according to White. Also, parents sometimes come to the library with their children, but then they leave them unattended.
   Vivian Yonkey, Children's Librarian, mentioned an incident when a mother was doing research in the archives room while her daughter, approximately three to four years old, was left to wonder around. At one point, she said the child was thirsty and asking for water.
   "We don't necessarily know what adult goes with what child because we are busy working, so if an adult approaches a child, we aren't always able to determine if the attention a child is receiving from that adult is appropriate," Yonkey said.
   Yonkey mentioned that there have been occasions when suspicious persons have been in the library. She said, usually, they are doing some kind of "research" on the Internet. For instance, library staff noticed one man, according to Yonkey, who was accessing "very bizarre" pornographic web sites.
   She said there was also an occasion when a boy printed out material related to bomb-making techniques and how to get bombs inside schools. "The world has changed. It is never, ever wise to leave a child unattended in a public area, no matter how safe you think it is," Yonkey said.
   Yonkey and White also explained that children are often left unattended for long periods in the children's tower, a special area where children can sit and read books. "When they get bored, they'll start throwing cushions around. That's when we realize that there is a problem," Yonkey said.
   According to White, some parents will call and ask where their children are, or they will approach the desk and ask if staff will watch their children for them. "We just don't have the staff to accommodate such a request," White said.