“Oh, how sweet,” said the person I had just met. “You have a background in children’s services. It must be nice to play around with puppets all day.” This off-hand comment really struck a chord with me. Yes, programming is fun (at least it should be.) It’s also an essential role of the job of a youth services librarian, working with purpose behind the practice.
The high-energy antics (as well as those incredible voices) of a puppet show may be viewed by colleagues from other departments and those customers outside of our profession as simple play. In youth services, however, the reasons behind why we do what we do (how interactive library programs for children develop essential literacy skills and promote a positive association with books and libraries, to name a few) is, as we know, a life-changer. How can we best get our message across to those who think our work is merely “child’s play?” We can start by simply sharing our ABCs.
A stands for Advocacy. As librarians working with children, we can promote the benefits of our work with passion, but we have to learn the language of those around us. If a customer expresses concern about preparing her daughter for school, we can discuss how our programs develop school-readiness skills. If our supervisors value statistics, we can frame the conversation around our high picture book circulation or our programming figures from the last quarter. Advocating for children’s services doesn’t only have a role in formal presentations; the opportunity presents itself at the most unusual times, often during a brief exchange with a customer or a quiet moment before a meeting begins.
B stands for Books. Books are at the heart of our profession. Parents, and library staffers in other departments, may be so inundated with the influence of standardized testing that they fail to realize the role readers’ advisory can play in assessing children’s reading interests and abilities. When we promote books, we promote our departments. We can connect books to every aspect of our programming and puppet shows. Working in customer service, whether staffing a desk or engaging in proactive reference, allows us to answer questions and connect the right book to each reader. As youth services librarians, we can also offer training to our colleagues from other departments on readers’ advisory for children and teens. Providing these trainings and workshops to staff outside of youth services ensures all our staffers have some understanding of the theory and hands-on training required when working with youth.
C stands for Collaboration. When we partner with other library departments, we offer a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the work required in youth services. This collaboration can take many forms; invite other departmental staffers to shadow a youth services staffer for a day and speak up at library meetings to ensure children’s initiatives have a voice. In our Hope Mills Branch of the Cumberland County Public Library & Information Center, we include departmental staff from all areas to assist with aspects of programming, under youth services staffers’ direction. We also cross-train employees to staff both service desks at our community facility, providing information services staff an opportunity to work the Children’s Desk, and youth services staff frequently staff the Information Services Desk.
What tricks have you found to ensure customers and staff alike understand the reasoning behind why we do what we do? What in youth services have you been able to defend to others, and how have you been able to express the purpose behind your practice?