Thursday, May 2, 2013

Youth-Librarians-to-Directors Speak Up!

Our YSS-sponsored program at the WI Association of Public Librarians conference in Lake Geneva was boffo.  Library Directors Connie Meyer of the Dwight Foster Library in Fort Atkinson, Hollis Helmeci from Ladysmith's Rusk County Community Library and Becca Berger from the Door County Library in Sturgeon Bay shared their journeys from youth librarians to directors and what they learned along the way.

The session Everything You Need to Know You Can Learn in Storytime, coordinated and planned by YSS board member Leah Langby, was presented as a series of questions that the panelists addressed. The questions and some of the answers:

How did work in youth services help you to be a better advocate for libraries?
Storytelling skills helped Meyer to hone her advocacy skills in promoting and speaking up for the library. She also discovered that the broken record approach works just as well for funders as for children. Planning ahead for storytimes served her in the work of planning as a director and she discovered that her ability to find another way around obstacles was definitely a result of working with kids.

Hollis found that her experience with promoting literacy and services to youth has continued to be useful as a director. She stressed that constant repetition to help the community and funders understand the importance of library services was a skill brought forward. Working with community groups as a youth librarians was vital in moving to work on the larger collaborative community stage as well.

Berger shared how her time in youth services helped her concentrate on her extroversion, a skill that has been immeasurably helpful as a director before funding bodies. Both children's librarians' and directors are "on" most of the time so those skills carry forward.

What quality did you practice as a children's librarian that you use as a director?
All three panelists agreed that flexibility learned as a youth services librarian- from being open to change to mental agility - allows you to grab opportunity and effect change as a director.  Becca also mentioned that skills in diplomacy really helped her deal with the politics needed for a director's work.

What was one of the rudest shocks and also one of the most pleasant surprises you encountered about the job change?
Helmeci cited the depth of antipathy staff felt toward teens was a surprise.  On the positive side, it was great to have much flexibility in schedule and vacation without worrying about constant programming and SLP.

Connie was surprised at how little contact she had with kids after the change (though expected, she missed the freshness and "realness" of kids' reactions). She agreed with Hollis that scheduling flexibility was a wonderful plus as a director.

Becca found that management and supervision, again though expected, was difficult. It is very different as a director to have most work done through other people. On the plus side it is really rewarding to see how supportive the community is for youth services.

Do you have any advice for library directors in the audience with regard to working with youth services librarians or the role of youth services in a library?
Becca advised simply being good to them and support their work.

Hollis suggested that directors do an occasional storytime and drop by programs and the department. If you are not present, you don't understand what youth services people are doing.

Connie advised appreciating youth services folks not only by word but also by what you do as an administrator through support and funding - make youth services a priority and realize that youth services are the future of your library.

Do you have advice for youth services librarians with regard to working with administration (this question also was a springboard for an audience question on how to work with an administration that seems unresponsive to youth services concerns)? 
Green advised that directors can't change what they don't know. Step up and express yourself. And follow the chail of command rather than going around it to address problems.

Berger suggested coming at problems in a issues-based way and provide possible solutions to make the interaction more successful.

Helmeci expressed the thought that staffers have good and bad days and directors need to be sensitive and step in and help relieve stressed YS staffers. It's also important for directors to communicate by helping staffers understand the realities of budgetary and staffing constraints. Open communication is key.

Audience members mentioned the importance of small tokens of appreciation (a day completely off the public desk; a gift certificate), regular meetings so everyone is informed and using the new Pew Research Center's results to make the case with administration about the vital nature of youth work.

A huge thanks to our panelists and to a great audience!

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

I've never understood the antipathy towards teens. Sure, they can be annoying, rude, and noisy (and do really idiotic things like eat daffodils and decide to change their shirts in the lobby instead of the restroom five feet away) but I don't get the way some people seem to feel that any boy between the ages of 13 and 20 is liable to whip out a switchblade at any second or something.