The Whole Library Approach

Posted Monday, August 12, 2013 - 14:14
Every staffer should be capable of serving every patron
Linda W. Braun

It’s probably no surprise to you that sometimes library staffers prefer to work with one age group over another. Children’s services staff members may love working with kids but may not be so crazy about working with teens or adults; young adult staffers may be wild about teenagers, but preschoolers and adults may be another story; and adult services staffers might love adults and teens, but not children.

Still, all staff members in a public library should be ready, willing, able, and trained to work with all ages. Adult services staffers don’t necessarily have to be able to discuss the latest pop-culture trend with a teen, but they should be familiar with teen behaviors and interests and not be susceptible to making rash judgments about those behaviors and interests.

Of course it’s not easy to guarantee all staffers are open to serving all age groups. That’s where the whole library approach comes in. In 2011 the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) released The Importance of a Whole Library Approach to Public Library Young Adult Services, outlining what it takes to help all library staffers support young adults. Despite the white paper’s YA focus, its message is clear: All staff members should be ready to work with anyone who comes into the library. The paper discusses the importance of administrative support, and how to work together across departments to benefit all members of a community.

A whole library approach to serving children and teens needs to encompass broad training in topics from child development to teens’ acquisition of developmental assets, connecting each age group to materials and information they need, and communicating successfully.

How do library staffers get this training? Options include:

  • Turnkey training, which is available from a variety of sources. For example, YALSA offers two training kits, one on teen behavior and the other on teens and technology. Both include PowerPoint presentations that can be used by a workshop facilitator. They also include video samples and ideas for small and large group activities. It might be exactly what your library needs to help staffers learn how to work successfully with teens.
  • Webinars and videos on working with different populations. YALSA, the Association for Library Service to Children, the Public Library Association, and other ALA divisions provide such training, as do many library schools in their continuing education offerings.
  • Regular modeling of successful techniques. For many, seeing how to do something in a real-life situation is much more helpful than learning about it in a workshop. Young adult staffers can make a point of letting colleagues observe their positive conversations with teens. Modeling how to handle difficult situations can help demystify how to work with an unfamiliar age group.
  • Discussion of challenging situations during staff meetings. Being open, honest, and direct about difficult situations staffers face when working with different age groups creates opportunities to learn new techniques.
  • Collaboration with other library departments. When different departments develop collaborative projects (say, teen services and reference staff members working together on meeting adolescents’ homework needs), they help each other understand their respective needs and how to create high-quality services for a less familiar audience.

The whole library approach can benefit every public library. Every administrator can help prepare every library staff member to support the needs of patrons of all ages. It’s the best way to assure that all library users receive the high level of service they deserve.

LINDA W. BRAUN is an educational technology consultant for LEO: Librarians and Educators Online, professor of practice at Simmons College GSLIS in Boston, and a past president of ALA’s Young Adult Library Services Association.

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