At my library, and perhaps yours too, we are looking at our services and our staff and trying to figure out what changes we should make to adapt to the changing roles of libraries.
It will not surprise anyone that I think youth services shows us the way to go. We:
- are friendly and approachable
- left behind the model of shushing people long before other areas of the library
- began thinking of libraries as places for people to go as well as places for people to gather books very early
- understand about different learning styles
- started getting out into communities to offer services directly to the public all the way back in the 1890s with the first Summer Reading programs
- are experts in the books on our shelves and have a very diverse audience in ages, tastes and temperaments that we need to serve with those books
- began creating interesting programs for kids and families decades ago as a basic service
- create memorable experiences for people
- talk to each other and share ideas very freely so that one library’s great idea becomes widespread
- have provided participatory and hands-on programming for many years, long before the Maker movement
- work with community agencies to serve the public together
- rejoice in our work because it is so varied and fun and worthwhile
- see the library as the center of a community
Children’s managers, I would argue, are some of the best leaders, too. They have to be, because they are juggling activities and schedules and staff and materials and space and patrons nonstop. You have to get very good at prioritizing and keeping your eye on what’s important (which is always patron service).
My even more radical notion is that every dime you spend on a children’s librarian is worth it, if they still love their job. Children’s librarians bring amazing amounts of energy and enthusiasm to their work. They investigate possibilities, look for new ways to serve people, and try to say Yes to their patrons knowing that every time you say No is a point where someone may never come back to the library again. A children’s librarian has spent time and money getting a degree where you earn much less money than a teacher, and yet they come to work looking for ways to make a difference to people, aka the taxpayers. You get maximum flexibility and you get the people who ensure that there will be lifelong learners still coming to the library for so many different reasons.
If your library is trying to sort out the future, I suggest that you look toward your youth services librarians. They will show you the way.