The problem with libraries is not generally with libraries (well not with most libraries anyway).
To get an idea of some of the things that librarians in libraries do, the inspiring Lauren Smith in 2011 wrote a list that you can read on the Voices for the Library site here.
A major problem that libraries have is the perception that many people have about them; people do not value things if they do not know the true value inherent within them. The root of this problem lies with the staff – Librarians and others who work therein. If you have read the list above you may think “Wait a minute, how does that work?”
Let me tell you.
As a profession we excel at doing things with a minuscule budget, we are good at providing services, training and making welcoming spaces for the community. Unfortunately we are generally absolutely abysmal at promoting what we do. We know what we do, the people that use libraries know what we do (as far as it intersects with what they need).
I was at the Youth Libraries Group Unconference on Saturday and saw old friends and made new ones and in the discussion groups that I attended I heard some of what people were up to in their branches. They were doing amazing things, simple but wonderful things, and generally they felt that it was nothing special. This attitude of I am just doing my job and nobody will be interested in what I do is one that I have run into many times over the past eight years that I have been running Teen Librarian and it makes me tear out what is left of my hair in frustration.
I speak to a number of people across the country that I have met over the years (both virtually and in real life) and keep tabs on what they are doing with regards to running teen programming in their libraries. When I meet new people who share my views on teen library services I have begged and pleaded for them to write something for me to share what they are doing with others so that there is a pool of knowledge that will grow into a sea. Sometimes people are constrained by time and – hey we are librarians I think we all know how limited that particular resource can be but usually they do not think they are doing anything amazing or that anyone else would be interested in hearing about it.
I am not talking about the Headspace project or the Reading Activist work being led by The Reading Agency although those could also do with having a higher profile. What really annoys me is the teen and youth services librarians, usually working on their own who through ingenuity and/or passion for a particular hobby or interest have fashioned events or clubs that can run on a shoestring and then not think that it is anything special.
I am not saying that if everyone shares their ideas and examples of best practice that everything will magically become better, I think we all know that our chosen careers will become even more difficult over the years but if we share what we have – the ideas for running events, thoughts on what could work and indeed what has not worked then it will forge closer ties between the staff in the libraries of Britain and make our lives easier. We must also learn to be more proactive in getting the word out about what we do; when council heads show their ignorance as to the rules are regarding service provision that makes me wonder what else they do not know about libraries. We need to embrace the educational aspect of our jobs and tell people what we do.
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