Week 12: Issues Reflection – Children & Teens

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    • #2532

      The readings this week came as a big surprise to me – some of the issues we discussed in the Twitter chat were things I had just never considered.

      I had hoped topic might be about massed arrays of gorgeously illustrated picture books and edgy, funky young adult fiction, manga and graphic novels.

      Alternatively, I was considering bemoaning in this reflection the dearth of “tween” programs on offer in Brisbane to engage my 13 year old. He is way too cool for the “kids stuff” at Brisbane City Council Libraries but just under the age requirement for The Edge activities he considered “OK” (translation: “Fantastic!”). He would adore Comic Gong – if it were in Queensland!

      Australian YA books

      I was dismayed to discover instead, stuff I didn’t know existed – for some children and teens, libraries are places they get dumped, or find a refuge in to get their homework done, effectively using libraries as after-school care. That’s tough on librarians, tough on kids and tough on resources. In a fairly controversial NYTimes opinion piece Re-inventing the Library Alberto Manguel goes further – “Most libraries today are used less to borrow books than to seek protection from harsh weather and to find jobs online ….” One library he mentions apparently provides pyjama parties for little ones. He continues …

      “Librarians today are forced to take on a variety of functions that their society is too miserly or contemptuous to fulfill, … [using] their scant resources to meet those essential social obligations …” Alberto Manguel

      It’s a shame he didn’t stop there – I was beginning to agree with him.

      But he goes on to say that libraries should be wresting this time back, to re-focus on what he calls their principal activity – providing books. No one loves their books more than I do, but this course has taught me that libraries are now so much more than book depositories! Libraries are places to connect, to learn, to meet up, to make, to create, to read and to participate in community.

      I guess the question lies in where do we draw the line in terms of re-inventing libraries as community spaces.

      Manguel’s article was disturbing. I had very happily wandered the stacks of my local library for hours as a child with nary a thought to whether the librarian felt she was responsible for me, or was “child-minding” me. Providing the kinds of outreach services and meaningful access for latch-key children that Penny Peck talks about, and the diversity of children’s needs, were well beyond my experience.

      Yet, at the same time, I read this week that some libraries are being asked to make do with volunteers (admittedly, often amazing and dedicated people) in place of paid library staff or become completely librarian-free because they are not considered important enough to fund properly. So who’s going to be responsible for kids now? What does all of this say about us as a society?

      It puts libraries and librarians in an invidious situation – children and teens need our time, and as a society we are time-poor so there is a gap that some kids are falling through. Libraries, among others, are stepping in to try and fill this gap. For me the question of responsibility, I think, is what Manguel was trying to get at, however poorly.

      How much responsibility librarians have or should have in theory and in practice, was the subject of some hot tweeting this week.

      It strikes me that if libraries are being asked by our society, even indirectly, to provide after-school programs, such as homework help, digital literacy, book clubs, maker spaces, gaming for teens etc., for a community’s children, then that community should be providing sufficient professional librarians and generously funded institutions to support those libraries and support those children.

      I think the response to Mr. Manguel is to say that libraries should do what libraries do best – providing <u>library</u> programs, products and services that meet community needs. And they should be properly acknowledged and funded by our communities to do so.

      End of rant.

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    • #2881
      Samantha Maddox

      Hi Robynne, I agree whole heartedly with you in regards to how amazing the after school program could be if librarians were given the opportunity to design. All of the resources that are available to them would make for a great program. Kids of today are missing out if they choose to reduce a library facility and replace the librarian with a volunteer…

      • #2896

        I think that’s right Samantha, I was outraged by the juxtaposition of the 2 pieces of information that grabbed my attention this week – First that our kids are essentially being cared for after schoool in places likes libraries and secondly that libraries are seen as so unimportant that they can be run by volunteers! That makes our kids unimportant as well as all the programs, products and services that libraries provide! I was surprised that this was happening, pleased that libraries were stepping in to help and then outraged by the downgrading of libraries.

        There re some fantastic volunteers out there but unless those volunteers themselves are professionally trained librarians this is a situation where everyone misses out!

        End of rant #2 🙂


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