Sunday, April 4, 2010

PLA highlights part 2 - Everyone Serves Youth

Do these scenarios sound familiar?

You're a YA librarian who has worked hard to attract teens to the library, putting in long hours of outreach to local schools and organizations, building up an awesome collection of books, movies, and music, and offering popular programs. The result? Teens are coming to and hanging out at the library like never before. Success!

But...! Your staff is rebelling. Attitudes among other librarians and clerks toward teens range from mild distaste to downright hostility. The security officer comes down hard on the teens, kicking them out of the library on a regular basis. How can you serve teens if they aren't welcome in your library?

Or maybe you're a children's librarian who has received a grant to put an early learning center in your children's area. It looks great - you have comfy seating, a colorful rug, bins of educational toys, easy puzzles, and puppets - and thanks to your outreach, families have begun flocking to the library. Success!

But...! With small children comes noise and mess, and the staff doesn't like it. Your supervisor has instructed all staff to shush all noise above a whisper and to admonish parents whose children run excitedly to the children's area. Clerks and librarians glare at moms who change their kids' diapers in the children's area, but what choice do they have? There is no changing table anywhere in your library, and your library administration is balking at putting one in. How can you say that your library welcomes families with young children when the staff and the policies seem so unfriendly?

These problems are not unusual, and so several library systems have implemented a training and service program called Everyone Serves Youth.

The idea behind Everyone Serves Youth is exactly that - that it's not just the children's and YA librarians who are responsible for serving youth. All staff comes in contact with youth and needs to know how to offer exemplary service with respect, empathy, and understanding.

Representatives from the Multnomah County Library, the Brooklyn Public Library, the District of Columbia Public Library, and the West Bloomfield Public Township Public Library gave presentations on how they adapted this program for their library systems with admirable results.

Some systems offer multiple types of mandatory workshops for different levels of staff. For instance, Multnomah requires ALL public staff to take Teens @ Your Library, a two hour class which covers everything from research on the teen brain to dealing with tough situations to positive ways to work with teens. Other courses include Our Commitment to Youth for Reference Staff and Our Commitment to Youth for Support Staff, which are an overview of Multnomah's services to youth from 0 to 18.

Brooklyn Public Library requires every single library employee, from librarians at all levels to support staff, security officers, and even janitors, to take a half-day course. The idea behind this is that "Children and teens deserve at least the equivalent, if not better, level of service we give to adults" and the goals of the workshop are to:
  • Encourage staff to develop mutual respect with and for youth
  • Increase the comfort level of staff when interacting with young people
  • Increase the comfort level of children and teens in interacting with us
  • Make all staff sensitive to the cultural diversity of the youngsters they serve.
The Brooklyn workshop curriculum includes the stages of youth development, behavior traits at different ages, how to figure out what kids need, how to concentrate on changing inappropriate youth behavior in a productive way, and much more.

This is so enticing to me - the idea of big library systems not just giving lip service to serving youth but actually making a REAL commitment to ensuring that every person in every branch has been trained and is on board.

It becomes particularly important at a time when, at the Los Angeles Public Library, a combination of a long-term hiring freeze and a huge early retirement incentive program has resulted in dozens of children's and YA librarian vacancies. If threatened lay-offs go through, we'll lose many more youth librarians.

Add that to the fact that two of our three main service focuses are directly linked to serving youth - reading readiness and student success. The third, technology for all, is of course also a part of youth services.

It's obvious to me that children's and YA librarians can't do it alone, not even with the full support of my own Youth Services office. We need the policies and training plans to be supported actively by administration and every part and person in our library system every step of the way.

It's a priority.


  1. Thanks for a great report and support for youth being in libraries! We struggle with this on lots of levels - our library staff is pretty good about it but if things get sticky with teens/kids somewhere outside their space, we youth librarians get called in. Sigh.

  2. Yes, and there's nothing like being called away from your lunch break because the reference librarian can't/won't find a "funny book" for a 4th-grader. Most of our librarians are great, I'm happy to say - but there seems to be a pervading perception that children and teens are the territory of the youth librarians only.

  3. I told you about my interview with NYPL - I walked away feeling really impressed with their library system when I was told, "We all serve youth." That's the first time I heard that phrase in the public library world, and I'm glad to see it's an idea that's spreading.

  4. We need this kind of training at LAPL. More clerks need to be on board and a few librarians too!

  5. What you said was true: It's not that library facilities should only be child-friendly, the staffs as well should be accomodating, friendly, and approachable. And for them to know the interests of these children they must know the developmental stages of a child physically and psychologically. Through this , they may be able to handle and understand these kids well.

  6. Yes - with knowledge comes understanding, appreciation, and respect.