This past school year, we started to notice some behavior issues with a few regular patrons in my library. Kids were starting new schools, younger kids were now allowed to hang out in the Teen Zone, and we had a smaller, temporary space.. I’m sure all these contributed to an increased need to redirect patron behavior.
This is not why I wanted to work with teens in the library. I do not enjoy shushing or mediating a dispute over what game goes into the XBox. And I really don’t like having to ask a teen to leave the library. My co-workers don’t like it, either.
This fall we decided we wanted to do something about it, but instead of adding to our basic rules of respect the space, respect others, and respect yourself, we wanted to reinforce positive behavior in the hopes that it would be enough to curtail the negative behaviors we were seeing.
I keep saying “we” because this is not at all an idea that I came up with on my own, but a plan we all enacted together. When I was an undergraduate, I worked in a group home for children in the state’s care, and we have a random act of kindness drawing. When I proposed doing something similar, a colleague volunteered to do some research on fostering positive behavior and came up with the “triple A” name for the system. Everyone was on board.
I am only on the desk a few days a week now, so my colleagues have mostly been the ones to implement this program. I decided to share it on my blog after a librarian friend was expressing concern over behavior issues in her library on Twitter. Though it’s not a complicated program, our Awards for Acting Awesome is difficult to sum up in only 140 characters.
As a form of positive reinforcement, we decided to have a monthly raffle for a small prize (think $5 gift certificate to the video game store, candy shop, or coffee shop downtown). Patrons can get an entry by doing something “awesome,” whether that is helping a younger kid login to whatever game they are obsessing over this week or helping us die-cut hearts for a children’s program.
Those who don’t win the monthly raffle still get their name featured on our digital display, and every non-winning entry will go into a big drawing (probably during the summer reading program).
Yes, some kids have caught on and will do something small (pick up their own trash, for example) and then say “shouldn’t I get an AAA entry?” but for the most part, the little incentive to be friendly, helpful, and kind has been just that. Some people might see it as a bribe, but I see it as a way to recognize and reinforce positive behavior instead of just kicking out kids who bring a dozen donuts on a Saturday morning and shares with only some of the regulars and deliberately exclude others (which is hard to construe as a violation of the respect rules, even if it is a jerk move).
This kind of incentive program as a behavior management tool might not work for every library. We have a budget (or can get donations) for rewards, and a good portion of the kids that hang out in the Teen Zone are there five days a week (or you know, seven). But we’ve notice the positive effects, and it might improve behavior at your library, too.