The Myth of Busy Summers
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.