Thursday, October 29, 2009

Looking at children's library services with new eyes - part 2

In yesterday's post on looking at children's library services, commenter Sophie makes a good point when she says of storytimes "...they are hugely beneficial in bringing people into the library, at least in my community. Our morning storytimes consistently bring in big numbers, and many of the audience members were brought by others, or heard about us word of mouth, and so they started coming to the library. Even if the storytime isn't their cup of tea, most leave with library cards and a sense of the resources that are available."

Absolutely. It wouldn't do much good to go out into the community extolling the wonders of the public library if families then came to the library and didn't find any programs for them. Storytimes might be considered a core service that most or all libraries should provide. What I question is the complacency that might set in (as it did to a certain extent with me) when librarians devote lots of energy to keeping a relatively small portion of the community happy. We might be serving 50 or even 100 families really, really well - but what about those families that don't come to our storytime?

Now, they might not want to come - perhaps their kids are too old or storytime isn't their scene or it's too much of an ordeal to pack up the kids and haul them to a program at the library (all those scenarios have fitted me as a parent at one time or another). But it's also possible that these families haven't heard about the storytimes, or can't get in because the storytimes are too full or at an inconvenient time, or aren't sure what the benefits of attending storytime are, or don't even know where the library is or have never been to it. Don't we need to worry about these unserved folks too?

And yet we can only do so much - it's not reasonable to expect a children's librarian in a busy branch to provide all the storytimes and other programs the community both needs and expects AND go out and make sure the whole community knows about the library AND find out what unserved families might need that isn't being provided AND go back and add yet more programming. We need to partner, we need to focus, and we need to have reasonable and well-reasoned-out priorities.

It might be a good time to look beyond one's own branch at the services offered by community agencies and by neighboring branches. While we'd love to be able all the services our community demands, we can't. However, if two neighboring branches have made baby/toddler storytimes a priority and both the neighborhood recreation center and the local YMCA are offering inexpensive mommy-and-me classes, it might be reasonable to focus on a different, as yet unmet need in the community. As Ginny said in her comment "One library might discover a need for intensive early literacy programs. Another might need to focus on after-school homework help. Another might start a father-son book discussion group or manga club." And perhaps a community agency could be beguiled to help fill a service need. In her comments, Sophie mentioned LAPL's partnership with the LA County Museum of Art, in which volunteers come to the branches to present a series for school-aged kids on art creation and appreciation.

In order to focus on how best to serve the community, it's necessary to have a mission, some goals, and some notions about how to achieve them. In my next post, I'll look Sarasota County Public Library's recent efforts at creating a plan for the next five years of youth services and I'll ponder (yet again!!) the Summer Reading Club.

Please add your thoughts. The comments on yesterday's post were thought-provoking and fascinating - more, please!

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