28 Days of Advocacy #11 – Advocacy Should Be At the Top of Your Job Description

I’m glad I’m following Julie Scordato’s excellent post on creating a Teen Services Vision Statement, since the task of shaping Teen Services staffs’ job descriptions should be the next step after creating and sharing that Vision Statement.

Anyone looking to create a mission/vision statement or job description should take a look at Peter Drucker’s Managing the Non-Profit Organization, which looks very dry, but is actually stuffed with great anecdotes and common sense.’  In a discussion of how to manage staff, he writes (emphasis mine):

People require clear assignments.’  … They need to know what the institution expects of them.’  But the responsibility for developing the work plan, the job description and the assignment should always be on the people who do the work.

Everyone in the non-profit institution, whether chief executive or volunteer foot soldier, needs first to think through his or her own assignment.’  What should this institution hold me accountable for? The next responsibility is to make sure that the people with whom you work and on whom you depend understand what you intend to concentrate on, and what you should be held accountable for.

If TEEN ADVOCACY is at the top of your job description, then you’re answering that key question: What should the library hold me accountable for?’  Answer: I should be accountable as a teen advocate, speaking out for the role of the library in each community teen’s life and ensuring equal library access and opportunity to all of the community’s teens.

That’s your big picture.’  The rest of your job description: X amount of hours on the desk, Y amount of programs per month, Z visits to schools and community centers, is used to shore up your role as a teen advocate.

This can be especially valuable when you’ve gotten too comfortable – you have a group of regulars, a cozy schedule of programs that suit your interests, and a well-worn path to your best booktalk books.’  That can look and feel like success, until you ask yourself: am I acting as a teen advocate?

That question should force you to look at the big picture: am I aware of the demographics, educational outcomes, and recreational activities of all of the teens in my community?’  What percentage of the teens in the community use the library?’  What languages are spoken by the community, and are there materials and programs that reflect that?’  Are the teens who “only come in to use MySpace” treated as full members of the library community?’  What about the kids skateboarding outside?’  What about the teens in the correctional facility down the way?

Teen advocates need to ensure that they are asking and answering all of those questions and more.’  No, you can’t serve every single teen in your community with the same level of service, but if you are being held accountable to the goal of Teen Advocacy, you are at the very least looking around to see who else you should serve, and how, and how you can guarantee free and equal access to the library by each teen.

True confession: as the relatively new head of a teen department, I am just beginning to look down this road.’  When I offered to blog about library advocacy for teens, this subject was nearest to my heart – not because we’ve already done it, but because we need to.’  This year will be spent working with the Teen Services staff and the teens of the community to craft our department vision and’  job descriptions.’  But I already know for sure that the first line of each job description will read: TEEN ADVOCACY.’  The conversation about how to hold ourselves accountable to that description will be one with a lot of twists and turns – but at least we’ll be on the path.

About Lorraine Squires

I am the head of Teen Services at Mastics-Moriches-Shirley Community Library, out on Long Island. As a new supervisor, I am interested in not only teen services, but the art and science of management. I serve on the YALSA website advisory committee and have been a member of YALSA for 9 years.
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