Interview with a Children’s Librarian

I met with my dear friend Debra Franke who is a Children’s Librarian here in London a couple weeks ago to discuss school, library topics, etc. I was thinking back to our first assignment on library space and how smaller libraries cater to Young Adults, so I got her to answer some questions dealing with her experience working at a small branch library.

  1. You worked in a small branch library, did you get the opportunity to work with any teens?

 In the small branch libraries, I do find there are often opportunities to work with teens. At one small library where I worked, the youth tended to be mostly tweens, and we often got the best response to programs advertised for ages 8-12 or 8-14. The tweens attended our movie afternoons, gaming programs, and the graphic novels workshops I led for drawing and writing graphic novels. Usually a fairly even number of male and female youth attended the library, but I was pleasantly surprised that a large number of boys attended the graphic novels workshops.

In the slightly larger small library where I have also worked, there tends to be a larger number of teens, many of whom are tweens, and many of whom tend to be approximately 14-15 years old. They come in regularly after school and in the evenings, and they come to do homework, spend time with friends, use the technology, talk to the library staff, and attend library programs (for example, teen gaming nights, music nights, arts and crafts, book clubs, etc.). For them, the library is very much their after-school hang-out, community hub, and social place, and meeting place.
2. In a small library is it usually the Children’s librarian’s responsibility to come up with programming and services for the Young Adult population or some one else’s?

In the libraries where I have worked, the Branch Librarian is also the Children’s Librarian and the Teen Librarian; we look after both the children’s and teen collections, and the children’s and teen programs and services. This means planning unique programs for each individual library according to its local neighborhood’s needs, and also planning programs to take place consistently at all libraries across the city, for example, summer reading programs.

While the Children’s Librarian is also responsible for teen programming, this programming can be done very successfully in collaboration with other library staff, such as library assistants. In one of the libraries where I have worked, all of the staff participate in creating and running programs for the young adult population; in this way, everyone’s strengths, gifts, and interests can be combined through a team-work approach to offer a larger variety of programs for teens.

In addition to the Branch Librarian and other library staff running young adult programs, we also depend on library volunteers who sometimes assist with programs, and community members who collaborate with the library to offer programs to young people in our library meeting spaces.

3. What do you think are some of the limitations of serving the teen population in a smaller library?

I have found that one of the challenges in a smaller library is space. When several young people come into the library together, they often desire a space of their own to sit and talk and read, and they often want space to be on the computers in pairs or small groups. They are looking for a corner of the library to unwind, work on homework projects, have group discussions, socialize, and make plans. The idea of the library as a community hub and social space is definitely alive and well, and when several children, teens, and adults fill a small library, each with their own individual needs, it can prove challenging to find the best balance of physical space that allows each group to engage the activities they most desire.

In a small library, the limited physical space also often means that there is less technology available than at a larger library, for example, a smaller number of public computers and research computers. When the number of computers and physical space is limited, last minute homework projects and social networking needs cannot always be immediately accommodated. However, because of internet technology today, many patrons bring laptops into the library, and many teens access the library website and its electronic catalogue, databases, and homework help from home as well as in the library.

Of course, collections and programming can also be affected by the library’s size. When the physical size of the collection is smaller, it becomes more challenging to ensure that all of the most sought-after books, magazines, DVDs, CDs and other materials are available. This means that staff are required to be intentional about, and dedicated to, excellent collection development and management, successful readers’ advisory and reference interviews, teaching teens about ordering materials from other branches, and planning the library’s space well so that materials are easy-to-find.

In terms of programming in the smaller library, I have found it very helpful to have several conversations with the teens in the small library, to find out what kind of programs they would most enjoy. When there is a smaller number of teens attending a particular library, attendance might tend to be lower, and finding a popular program topic and advertising well (including word of mouth!) can help to increase attendance and success.

4. What do you think is more important for a teen in the public library, Space or Collection?

From my experience, I feel that both are very important and that they are intertwined in different ways; however if I had to choose one, I would say that the Collection is more important. In general, the space is important because teens often use the small library as a place to meet and hang out, and they want a space of their own where they can gather away from the other patrons and staff, and where they can have the room they need for spreading out their belongings, being social, and working on the computers together. In this way, the library as “meeting place” and “social space” is largely what seems to draw the teens in.

However, once the youth physically enter into the library, I feel that the collection becomes extremely important. Making sure the collection holds the key titles that youth are looking for can help to engage them in reading and literacy and programming such as book clubs; maintaining a good collection can help a teen to see the library as a place that is much more than a social space. It also helps teens to find out about popular titles and get excited about reading through ‘word of mouth’: essentially, because their friends are reading it and loving it, they want to read it also. The collection is important in supporting the necessary resources for homework and school projects; a good variety of materials which are placed in easy-to-find places around the library can minimize frustration and maximize excitement and interest in reading, researching, interacting with audio-visual materials, and discussing likes and dislikes.

Because of the growing use of the Internet and the World Wide Web, as well as audio books and electronic databases, more and more teens can be reached before they ever set food in the library. The library’s physical and electronic collection is something that can be well advertised and easy-to-find on a library’s website, making it accessible and visible to teens when they are using the library’s webpage or homework help options from home.

5. Finally, what was your favourite Young Adult book growing up.

I had quite a few books that I loved as a teen, but I’d have to say that my all-time favourite young adult novel was S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders. I read this book for the first time in Grade 7, and Ponyboy Curtis and Johnny were two characters that I never forgot. Their home lives, friendships, hardships, sadness, and courage were engraved into my heart.  I also loved any and all Judy Blume books, largely because Blume spoke to so many of the questions, emotions, and fears that resonate with so many tweens and teens. I was also a fan of W.O. Mitchell’s Who Has Seen the Wind.

Thanks again Debra for being a great mentor and answering these questions!


3 Responses

  1. Thanks for posting this! It is really valuable to hear about the perspective and experiences of current practicing professionals on issues discussed in class.

  2. Thanks for the comment! It’s great having a good friend who is in the field to get feedback and debrief with. I love Debra, she’s an amazing librarian!

  3. Great interview Katie!

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