You’ve heard it and probably taken the workshop- “Everyone Serves Youth.” Certainly a worthwhile philosophy and a positive public service credo. While all library staff may be expected to serve children and teens, do all librarians do it as well as, say, a children’s or teen librarian?
I don’t know about other large library systems, but my own is in the midst of major organizational restructuring. When the first of the organizational changes were announced, there was criticism and grumblings from almost every level. People who had been with the system for years were suddenly worried about their jobs. How will they be absorbed into the new hierarchy? How will their day-to-day duties change? How will different levels of the organization- from branches to administration- communicate effectively? And most importantly, at least for my work, how will the specialty services (such as children’s and young adult) be affected?
I’m an optimist. I like the idea of shaking things up, reworking old paradigms, and revisioning the public library. I am not opposed to change and I welcome new ideas and fresh perspectives on customer service.
Good customer service -“value-added” service- in the public library is impossible without youth service librarians. The children’s and young adult librarians who plan and provide specialty programming, who know the literature and provide reader’s advisory, and who maintain youth spaces and collections that reflect the needs of their communities are essential components of any 21st century library model.
Unfortunately, my own library system has not made these priorities clear in their new model. Which is not to say they aren’t planning on it. (See- that’s the optimist in me.) It’s just that over a year into the new model, youth services seems to have taken a hit to the gut.
When I was first hired, all new librarians and librarian trainees had to pick a specialty (children’s, young adult, or adult reference) and complete a training seminar related to that specialty. While most of the day-to-day skills needed to perform specialty work were learned on the job, the specialty seminar was a formal introduction into the finer areas of specialty services. For the children’s seminar, I was required to learn an oral tale and do a storytelling program. I had to do a certain number of class visits and booktalks. I had to attend a book order meeting. I had to both observe and plan an early childhood program. Though most importantly, for me, I got to meet and socialize with other children’s librarians in my system- both new hires and veterans. I got the sense that the work we specialists were doing was just that: special. And the skills we were learning and perfecting were important, invaluable resources for our communities. Together with our co-workers, who were themselves specialists in teen or adult reference services, we combined to form a solid branch-level force of not just librarians- but a team made up of a children’s librarian, a teen librarian, and adult librarians. Certainly, we were all capable of pitch-hitting when needed. A children’s librarian could take the reference desk, and a reference librarian could watch the children’s desk. No problem. But when it came to programming, or a tough reader’s advisory query, we were able to confidently call up our colleague for help.
When my system offered the Everyone Serves Youth workshop, I was excited to participate. While I already “served youth” in my capacity as a librarian trainee in a children’s department, I liked the idea that librarians from other specialties would receive youth services training. In terms of providing better service for tweens and teens, I believed (and still do) that teaching adult services librarians about the value of age-appropriate programming and the developmental assets will help foster more positive interactions between library staff and the community of users. In my mind, the Everyone Serves Youth program was a way to bridge the gap between library staff who didn’t understand children and/or teens and the specialty staff who served them.
Here’s a good example of how Everyone Serves Youth was helpful: “Ryan” a loveably grumpy adult reference librarian who has been working for over 30 years does not understand why the teen librarian is always out of the building and why the children’s librarian cannot cover the reference desk on Thursday mornings. Rather than simply explaining that the teen librarian is doing class visits and the children’s librarian has a toddler program, “Ryan” would be educated about why such outreach and programs are important and necessary. To my mind, answering the why goes long way to establishing both better working relationships and customer service.
What I didn’t envision was the Everyone Serves Youth workshop serving as a replacement for trained youth services librarians. One of the major changes to accompany my system’s new model has been the disappearance of the specialty seminars. New librarians and trainees will no longer be required to specialize in a particular age group. Instead, every new hire will take a general course on public service- of which one day will be spent on service to children and teens, respectively. The idea being that everyone serves youth. And thus, there is no pressing need for specialists.
It is not clear how far this new approach to youth services will go. Are dedicated children’s and teen librarians to slowly fade away? Will Toddler Times be done by “Ryan” the grumpy reference librarian? Or will it be more cost-effective to simply outsource library programs and hire professional performers to entertain toddlers and their caregivers?
But, as I said, I’m an optimist. I’m hoping that my system is simply going through some growing pains. That after the dust settles, the powers that be will come to see the value that children’s and teen librarians bring to a branch library. And that while having “Ryan” the grumpy reference librarian take over a Toddler Time for a day might be fun to watch, it’s not a long-term solution.