Magazine article American Libraries

Everything Is Messy: The Changing Business of Youth and Family Services

Magazine article American Libraries

Everything Is Messy: The Changing Business of Youth and Family Services

Article excerpt

Until recently, if you had asked me how I would describe, in a word, working with and for youth and families, I'd have probably responded: awesome. But not too long ago I was talking with a colleague about our work and she offered a different word: messy.

I realized that word was a fitting--and not necessarily negative--description. Many people serving youth and families in libraries may find it to be a "messy" business.

It's messy because:

* The audience we work with is not static. What youth and families need is always changing, and how libraries support those needs has to change too. Anyone who has ever made an adjustment to services--for example, transitioning from a summer reading to summer of learning program--knows that some people will love it, some people will hate it, and some just won't care. That's messy.

* The role of the library and its staff is evolving constantly. Libraries are no longer transaction-based institutions. Instead we are shifting our focus to informal learning opportunities for youth and families, often aimed at people who might not have used our services in the past. This means a library staff needs to adapt how they do what they do. Guess what? That's messy.

* Lifelong learning isn't just for the youth and families that we serve. We are always learning new things to keep up with trends in libraries, as well as educational trends, technology, and best practices in assessment. Lifelong learning can be messy.

* We are no longer the sole experts on information retrieval and delivery in a community; increasing numbers of people, especially youth, are becoming savvy in this regard. Library staffers must accept that they are experts on some things but need to be co-learners with youth and families when it comes to others. Not knowing everything can be scary, and having others lead the way can definitely be messy. …

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