Thursday, September 21, 2017

Youth Services in Action: Here's What We Do

Black text on a green background:
"Youth Services: Here's What We Do"

When libraries consider disbanding age-specific departments, it particularly affects youth services in a way that it might not in other sections of the library. This tweet at Librarian Problems, which right now has 700 engagements between Twitter and Tumbler, plays on this idea: Homer Simpson gasps as he's met with a room full of babies; this GIF is accompanied by the phrase, "When a reference librarian wanders into storytime". In the episode this GIF comes from, the room full of babies is silent save for their pacifiers; in storytime, as we know, this is not the case.

It's a funny concept, which is why so many liked, retweeted, and reblogged it. But those engagements and the comments it's garnered definitely tell me: it's funny because it's true. 

I have no doubt that plenty of libraries disband age-specific departments in a supportive way that values the strengths of all staff, and I've even seen it happen at libraries in my cooperative. Heck, my program is doing this when we soon on-board our new Youth Services Librarian, as the two positions were originally conceived as "Early Literacy" and "School Services" but will now work in a more collaborative, project-based way. The pearl clutcher in me, however, is ever the cynic and the skeptic.

There are lots of things to consider when thinking about the design of services to youth in your public librarian, and librarians much smarter than me have already begun to tackle them. Karen Jensen of Teen Librarian Toolbox and Melissa Depper of Mel's Desk have some awesome, required reading threads. Kendra Jones started a Facebook conversation about a recently announced PLA Conference session; the post and comments are edifying and worth a read. Tess Prendergast wrote an open letter to PLA  about it complete with a citation list, and was able to get the title changed, at least. Please follow those links. I'll be here.

I am so grateful that my cooperative has a position like mine, and that it's valued so much we are expanding our program. I do coordinating things, but I also take advocating for youth services and our youth services library staff seriously. I try my best to help our library staff break down barriers to youth access and provide the highest quality services to youth possible. It's a job that can be tough but I'm honored that the trust has been bestowed upon me to do it.

Today I updated an information sheet I call "Early Literacy in Action", a one-pager full of stats and soundbites that can help explain our early literacy services and benefits to our community partners. I teared up rereading it, I will admit, because the work we do is so important and so far reaching and so varied and holy crap our county has at least 40 dedicated youth services staff and that is amazing and empowering. I'm pasting the text here. Feel free to take the soundbites for your early literacy advocacy or the format for other programs and departments. I'd love to see it.

40: the approximate number of library staff members whose jobs are specifically dedicated to work with the community’s youth
731: the number of early literacy storytimes that took place in Washington County during the summer of 2017
20,151: the number of parents, caregivers, and children who attended these storytimes countywide
630,000: the approximate number of juvenile materials that are being circulated among and browsed at our 16 member library sites, many of which are intended for our youngest patrons.
280,000: the number of child visits our libraries enjoy each year

Our local youth services staff members know that early literacy skills and access to high-quality books are important to success in life. We work hard to best serve our youngest patrons and their families in a variety of ways:
Developmentally appropriate books: children at different ages have different needs when it comes to books. For instance, we know that babies like to explore books by biting, hitting, and throwing, so our libraries are stocked with lots of “board books” with hard pages. Many of these board books have high-contrast images, which are easier for babies’ eyes to focus on during the first few months of life. As children grow as readers, our libraries have a large and diverse collection picture books and early readers to support them and their families.
Continued early literacy education: WCCLS library staff is trained in the Every Child Ready to Read (ECRR) curriculum, a research-based early literacy program.  Librarians are some of the most trusted members of our community, and we are happy to support our families by enriching our spaces and programs with brain-building activities like reading, writing, singing, playing, and talking.
Early literacy advocacy and training to the public: Our library staff regularly talks to the public at community events and meetings about the importance of early literacy. Our libraries also often host training opportunities for parents and caregivers to equip them with the tools to enrich children’s lives with early literacy skill practice.
Book delivery programs: Cedar Mill Library, Beaverton City Library, and WCCLS all have programs that deliver rotating monthly book tubs to childcare providers. Books for Kids is a WCCLS program that targets in-home, license exempt providers in high-need catchment areas (in partnership with Child Care Reference and Referral). During the first 6-month cohort, providers reported a 230% increase of shared early literacy experiences.
Storytimes: storytimes are interactive opportunities for families to practice early literacy skills at the library. A library staff member leads the families through activities including book sharing, singing, and movement. Storytimes regularly feature an early literacy “caregiver tip” that is emphasized or modeled during the storytime. Libraries offer age-specific storytimes, the contents of which are specifically designed by our knowledgeable youth services staff for the typical developmental stages of each age group. They also offer “family storytimes” that engage kids of all ages in a more general way.

Keep it up, Youth Services staff. And if you have any ideas for innovation specifically in Youth Services, I'm currently serving as the sole Youth Services Librarian on the ALA Center for the Future of Libraries Advisory Group so I'd love to hear about it here.

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