Memorial day is around the corner, and for those of us who work in children’s services at public libraries, this means Summer Reading. Traditionally, summer is a time we encourage children to read (often for prizes), help children meet their page-total goals, and ramp up our child-centered program offerings. It’s one of the most fun, exhausting, and rewarding times of the year to be in this field. Because of this focus in children, it’s also an excellent time to advocate for services to children and their families. We have a myriad of positive stories to share, as discussed in a blog post from last summer, and often a willing and eager audience in the many families that visit our libraries.
Sharing our stories is vital. It is even more vital in light of the 2018 OCLC report From Awareness to Funding.
According to the report, the belief that “libraries just aren’t as important in kids’ lives as they once were” has risen from 24% of respondents in 2008 to 36% of respondents in 2018. In the same vein, those who see the library as “an excellent resource for kids to get help with homework” has fallen from 71% in 2008 to 51% in 2018.
The rise in the perception of the library’s irrelevance to children’s lives is startling. We are still providing the essential services we were a decade ago, and expanding our offerings and partnerships all the time.
In my library, and libraries across the country, we don’t simply offer readers advisory and prizes during the summer. We have free snacks and lunches, free tutoring, and free camps on top of our more traditional programming. These initiatives provide children most in need access services traditionally filled by schools when those schools close for break. We are meeting a vital need in the community. Feeding children who would go hungry is not irrelevant or unimportant. It is quite the opposite.
We know our services are just as vital as they ever were. So how do we lower that 36%? One ways is through summer advocacy.
Before you dust of your trusty Summer Reading elevator pitch, be sure to look at the breadth of services you offer and the positive outcomes those services have for children. Summer is not simply about books and reading goals.
“I help [target audience] [verb phrase] at the library so that [proven’expected positive outcome for target audience.]”
When someone at the grocery, park, or community council meeting asks “what do you do,” don’t just say “I’m a children’s librarian.” Talk about some of the amazing programs and services your will be offering your youngest patrons this summer. Try “I help children get a nutritious meal in order to combat childhood hunger and thus lessen the summer achievement gap.” Practice your elevator speech. Summer will be here before you know it, and, if your library is anything like mine, you won’t have a shortage of fantastic initiatives about which to speak.
Bridgid Gallagher-Sauter, Advocacy and Legislation Committee