The Future of YA Library UK: A Conversation

25 Jan

I used to work at a public library. I don’t anymore. In fact, right now I don’t work in any library at all.*

Last year, the local council cut my (former) library’s budget exponentially. The library was allowed to cut any aspect of its services except one: we couldn’t close any branches. It was decided that meant cutting all of our enquiry desk staff and reallocating them to outreach positions (at a pay cut for those who had been librarians). After minimal training, library assistants were reallocated to the few remaining reference desks.

The local council knew branch closures are such a hot-button issue. They were likely aware that both staff and the public would put up a fight if they closed a branch. So instead, they went for something without a public face: cutting staff essential to providing a quality service.

The cuts were announced around the same time that certain necessary government services went online. The government failed to provide training programmes for those with low or no computer literacy skills, so local council employees referred the baffled and upset to the library with the vague words, “they might be able to help you.” New patrons flocked to the library. Demand increased while staff numbers began to dwindle. It was disheartening and put a tremendous strain on all of us. I had no idea what to do about it, or whether I could do anything at all. In the end I left.

YA Library UK will continue to run, some changes need to be made. This site was created for people who had the enthusiasm to provide teen services in their library, but who faced barriers like inexperience, limited budgets, and staff resistance. People who needed a demonstrable outcome to get real support for teen services, but didn’t have a clue where to start, or any guide to teach them. People who were doing the YA ordering and trying to figure out how to get the books young people actually wanted to read.

In many cases these concerns have become subordinate to cuts and closures. Without a library, a staff, or a budget, how can we provide a service to anyone, let alone teenagers?

I want to hear from you: what are the main challenges you’re facing in your library? Closures? Budget cuts? Staff cuts? If you’re still running a teen library service, what are your challenges there? Budget? Local (dis)interest? Colleagues who laothe teens? In some libraries, I know that many of these issues intersect.

In response to your feedback, I will formulate new directions for YA Library UK that respond more effectively to the current climate in public and school libraries. So please comment below (anonymous commenting is on!), tweet or email me and let me know about the challenges you’re facing.

*If you’re wondering what I’m up to these days, you can visit the updated about page.


2 Responses to “The Future of YA Library UK: A Conversation”

  1. Lee Mumbray-Williams January 26, 2012 at 14:39 #

    I’m the librarian in a school library, serving just over 1,000 students and about 100 staff. I work full time but have no assistance whatsoever (I used to have 15 hours per week of staff support until two years ago). The result of this is I’m spread too thinly and pupils don’t get the attention they need or deserve. The bread-and-butter jobs (reshelving, tidying, etc) have to be done so cataloguing and accessioning get postponed. There is no time for beautiful displays, for getting to know new stock or for encouraging readers to stretch themselves and try something new. There’s no money to do any of this any way and I know that it’s not going to improve for a long time, if ever. It leaves me feeling very demotivated, especially as each treat of redundancy looms…

    • Young Adult Library Services UK January 26, 2012 at 15:22 #

      First, thank you for the comment. It’s interesting to hear about your challenges, especially that the trouble actually started two years ago (there was a similar situation at the public library where I worked). I do tend to think that the main difference between patrons who love the library and those who are wary of it have to do with whether they receive positive, individual attention when they need it. This is especially true of teens, who are often singled out with negative attention.

      Demotivation is one of the “hidden injuries” of budget cuts. Once there are fewer staff, staff become far more stressed, and thus more easy frustrated and demotivated.

      I don’t know what the solution is (besides continually opposing cuts, for what it’s worth). I am curious: if you could solve just one of these problems, which would you choose? What would a perfect solution to it look like?

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