Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Youth services: who are we willing to serve?

I have been mulling over my career options (it's a constant thing with me, really), and I keep coming back to youth services in a public library setting. There are many reasons for this. First, I genuinely enjoy young people. They energize me. Second, while I loved school myself, I just can't see myself working in a school setting for any length of time. I'm not sure why, but school media specialist work is not for me. Third, I'm convinced that it's vitally important work. Not just because the library was hugely important to me as a young person, but because I'm learning already that libraries (like most public organizations) are in the fight of their lives to prove their relevance and ensure their longevity. It seems to me that reaching out to young people is crucial because they will be the library users of the future - and if they don't use the library now, will they ever?

With that in mind, I started poking around for blogs by youth services librarians, and found a wonderful post that juxtaposes the issues of youth librarianship with social work issues (general human service is important to me, too). In her post entitled Youth in libraries - are you really ready to welcome them in? , Librarian Deb asks some hard-hitting questions of youth services librarians. We say that all teens are welcome, and that we are interested in promoting literacy - but what if we do a good job with this, and the result is that youth with "undesirable" behaviors frequent our youth library spaces? How far does our committment to youth literacy go? What are we willing to tolerate, and what is not tolerable? How do we serve both underpriviledged individuals and the so-called "good kids", and make them both feel comfortable in the youth library space?

I would say that I want to find a way to welcome anyone, but the logistics of this are difficult. As Deb states, it might require partnership with social workers, teen outreach workers, who knows who else. This type of teen library is really appealing to me - it's the logical extension of a public library that's already serving as a meeting place for various community groups, a place that's already doing adult and emerging literacy work, etc. However, the issue of making 2 groups of teens (those who already frequent the library, and those who don't yet do so) comfortable in one space is a very, very tricky one. I'm not sure how it could be achieved, but if one were successful with it, the possibilities for community transformation seem quite rich.

No comments: