The Myth of Busy Summers

Posted Monday, June 23, 2014 - 11:44
Youth librarians serve kids, parents, and advocates all year long
Linda W. Braun

When library staff members serving youth tell me how much busier they are when school is out for the summer (and in preparing for students’ vacation time), it makes me a little crazy. I say to myself, “Shouldn’t library staff be this busy all year long?” And really, what message does it send when talking with colleagues, administrators, community members, and elected officials that spring and summer are most busy for youth-serving staff? Mightn’t anyone be justified in asking, “If that’s the only time you are so busy, why do we need so much of your services the rest of the year?”

We need to think differently about the way we position summer programming within the full spectrum of our work with youth. We shouldn’t consider that work to be special because it makes us so busy; it should be special because we’re interacting with young people when they have more free time, which they may choose to spend on library-related learning activities. 

A helpful way to think about this is to look at summer programming goals and objectives. A primary goal is to help mitigate the summer slide—alleviating loss in reading skills and learning loss in math and science.  

Are our desired results different during the school year? From fall through spring, we are still striving to support youth learning. It’s just that the focus and allocation of our time, our tactics, and our visibility need to differ.

Think about what you are going to be doing once school starts again in the fall. Will you be less busy? No. During the school year you may perform tasks like maintaining the collection, but you will still be connecting with children, teens, and community members September through June. So the allocation of time shifts to these different priorities. It’s just a matter of how much time you are rededicating to which services.

If our buildings have fewer children and teens in them during some hours of school-year months, even during out-of-school time, then we need to go where the youth in the community are, whether in preschools, community centers, out-of-school-time service provider spaces, or coffee shops and malls. Throughout the school year we need to spend time making connections with those in the community we can work with to support year-round learning. Combine these school-year outreach activities with some other work that needs your attention, such as materials, staff, and facilities. Then you won’t say you are super busy only during the summer. You’ll be busy all year, just on different things and in different ways.

Consider these activities for your fall 2014 calendar:

  • Evaluate the summer program with staff and youth and develop outcomes for 2015;
  • Attend and organize meetings with members of the community who also serve youth to plan for year-round activities and ways to collaborate;
  • Participate in community events that include youth voices, such as school open houses, programs at local Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCA/YWCAs, and other youth organizations;
  • Host out-of-school-time programs inside and outside the library that provide opportunities for youth and their families to gain skills and/or connect to a passion or interest;
  • Learn something new by taking an online or face-to-face class.

These are just a few ways you can work to make fall 2014 through spring 2015 just as busy as the summer. Get out of the “I’m so busy in the summer” trap and move into the “We are busy year-round actively serving, learning how to better serve, and preparing to serve youth and families in our community” outlook.

LINDA W. BRAUN is youth services manager at Seattle Public Library, an adjunct faculty member of the Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Science in Boston, and a past president of ALA’s Young Adult Library Services Association.

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You know, some of us might be worried about the experience that the family is having. Is being that busy good for them? Can we provide good customer service when we don't have the staff scheduled to deal with it? Going from 0 to 200 sign ups in 24 hours is a huge shift in services and expectations.

While I understand the thrust of this article is advocating more service for youth and teens year-round (which I totally agree with), it is a specious argument that staff are not busy the rest of the year. Libraries, especially urban libraries, are busy all the time. The difference in summer is that we increase our programming and outreach and public visibility without increasing individual's work hours or adding staff to fill the gaps that are left behind. As a youth services librarian, I would appreciate more support in order to do these amazing things that actually make youth enjoy and use libraries. In the meantime, hell yes I raise my voice to TPTB that we are insanely busy and often lack the basic support to sustain those levels of engagement.

Over the years many youth library staff across the country have said to me, "I am so busy during the summer I can't do that." (Or something of that nature.) Then they have told me that during the school year their libraries are quiet and they have lots of time. The thing is that library staff need to think about the message that those statements send to the community, funders, etc. In essence when we highlight summer in that way and de-highlight the rest of the year we are saying, summer is the only time we are busy. Fall/winter/spring we have time on our hands. I actually know that that's not really the case for many library staff working with youth. Many library staff are busy year round doing amazing things for and with youth, but, because of the intensity of what happens in the summer the message that is often sent is that we are only busy in the summer. That's what I hoped to get across in this article - let's stop saying, "I'm so busy in the summer" and start instead saying, "I'm so busy all year because I'm doing these amazing things for and with youth and families January - December."

I'm glad you didn't mean what it sounded like you meant. Did you have anyone that works at a library read it before you put it out in the world? Everyone I know that has read it, aside from two people, was offended, and even those two felt that better wording could have been used. In my experience, posts like these never go well. It feels like you are blaming and shaming. If you are indeed hearing about this from all over the country, then this is an institutional problem. The culture needs to change, and the people will follow.

I agree with RachelRose. I *am* busier in the summer, and I don't mind saying so. In the winter, there are weeks when I can work 40 hours, no extra time! Amazing. Right now, I work extra time - sometimes, two or three extra hours - almost every day. Summer is a great time to point out the range of library services we do. In the winter, I do more collection development and school outreach, and I do the regular storytimes/book clubs/special events. We offer events year-round, as I'm sure everyone does. But if one wants to see the fullest *programming* potential of this library, come in the summer.

I understood the intention of this article, and I did not take offense, but I think there was a huge component missing. In order for librarians to operate at the same intensity necessary during the summer, we would need to either increase branch staff or be willing to sacrifice librarian presence in the branch in order to accomodate outreach and programming activities. Ideally, I would love to program and conduct outreach at the same level we do in the summer, but is that realistically possible? I think Linda is correct in stating that we are busy in different ways during the school year, and I also agree that we should be connecting with kids during the school year. I think so many of us are already doing these things, but functioning at the same level we do during the summer seems unrealistic without additional staffing or increased hours for our librarians. I read this article as an attempt to advocate for librarians, stressing the importance of our work year-round that many in the community may not recognize because we aren't as public about our year-round services as we are with our summer program. However, I would never say that I am not busy during the school year, but I certainly do not offer outreach services and programming at the same level as summer because the capacity of my branch could simply not handle it. So my question would be, how can we make all this possible without burdening branch staff and the physical and mental capacity of our librarians? And in what ways can adminstration and staff better advocate and publicize the efforts already happening in libraries across the country?