Against Cuts: Teen Library Services and Literacy

10 Feb

The National Literacy Trust recently found that libraries play important role in supporting literacy. From the article (emphasis mine):

“Children who use their local public library are twice as likely to be above average readers, according to research published by the National Literacy Trust…. seven- to eleven-year-olds are nearly three times more likely to use the library than 14- to 16-year-olds.”

The survey also found that library users are more than twice as likely to read outside of class everyday. More than a third (38 per cent) of young people who use the library believe it will help them to do better at school.

“The most common reasons children gave for not going to the library were that their family does not go (52 per cent) and that their friends do not go (40 per cent).”

Pre-teens, teenagers, and young adults need libraries, and, more than that, library services. After the age of 12 or 13, reading for pleasure falls off educational agendas. This is the time that teen library services can step in and help promote literacy and reading for pleasure.

It is not enough to simply place books (or manga, or graphic novels, or even magazines) on shelves and hope teenagers will find them. Libraries often have such a low profile that teenagers who are not already aware of their offer will not venture into the library. Moreover the library is often seen as quite geeky or uncool, and thus is not a final destination unless the teenager must use the building for schoolwork or Internet access. (Of course there are ways of branding local libraries as “geek cool,” but these take a concerted effort: staff, time, and money!)

Having at least one member of staff dedicated to teen work, and exciting teen events encourages more young people to feel comfortable on the premises. Moreover, a dedicated staff person can do outreach, going to schools and youth centres, working with specific groups like young carers or young offenders to make the library service relevant and accessible to those groups. Library outreach to teens meets them in spaces they feel comfortable, with material that interests them and encourages them to read. Once a young person has begun reading, it is often only a matter of time (and patience) before they make tentative attempts to read beyond the level or genre they were comfortable with. The first step is literacy, then pleasure reading material, and then, finally exploration of new materials, new genres, new ideas. This is how reading for pleasure and self-education take hold of a person. They are lifelong habits, so developing them in teenagers in paramount.

Library cuts and closures are potentially disastrous for teen literacy. Teen library services are already fragmented. They are not (currently) a national priority. Yet, they are consequential influences on young people’s quality of life and education.

YA Library UK will continue to feature information about outreach to teens and teen library services on a shoestring. However, I am entirely against these cuts and closures, and the need for libraries to offer many services with very little staff and practically no budget to speak of. Library cuts do not accurately reflect library usage or other needs within communities. They neglect the needs of teenagers. I urge both local authorities and the government to seriously reconsider whether libraries are in fact a “soft” target or a service necessary for communities and their education and quality of life.

If you’d like more information about saving libraries and opposing cuts and closures, please visit the wonderful Voices for the Library website.

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One Response to “Against Cuts: Teen Library Services and Literacy”

  1. Stephen Bull February 10, 2011 at 14:13 #

    As a librarian in charge of a large comprehensive school library I couldn’t agree more about the absolutely vital need to provide a wide range of books to encourage teen reading. Most important of all is the desire to engage with young people in a genuine way and listen to what they say. The trick is always to balance what young people say they want to read with what you as a professional might hope they will read. Not an exact science but a skilled craft. In a rapidly changing world young adults need a vast range and depth of material to engage them; computers and technology yes, but lots and lots and lots of good books. In times like these we need more books, more libraries and more qualified librarians to manage it all.

    Stephen Bull
    Secondary School Librarian

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