I was driving down the FDR into NYC listening to the Buzz Out Loud podcast and feeling frustrated about the traffic. All of a sudden the podcast hosts read an email from a listener who asked fellow Buzz Out Loud listeners to rally around the Philadelphia libraries to help guarantee that the main library and branches would not be shut down permanently. The email spurred a conversation about libraries amongst the three hosts of the podcast and all of a sudden my frustration turned from being focused on the traffic to being focused on the hosts. I started yelling, out loud, in the car – where I was all by myself – at the hosts.
The yelling took off when one host responded to the email by saying (this is a very general paraphrase) she realized it was hard for libraries to maintain funding because they had big buildings to maintain and perhaps no longer provided services that were necessary for the community. So, maybe, if libraries started focusing on being the repository for cultural heritage that might help them to survive and to make better use of their buildings.
Then another host talked about how he has a three year old child and he likes going to the local branch library because they have a great big children’s room, storyhour, and lots of books. But, he didn’t really see the library being a place that was needed beyond something to support children and families in the community.
For a couple of minutes the conversation went on like that and I was ranting at the radio while trying not to have an accident. Then, one of the hosts, Rafe Needleman changed the conversation, at least in my mind, with one very simple statement and that was, “Nostalgia is not going to save libraries.” At that point I stopped yelling and thought to myself, “OMG, that’s it exactly.”
That statement resonates because as we work with teens we have to be very aware of the fact that the library of the past – one focused on books and traditional programs – will not work for teens today. As teen librarians we can’t try to sell programs to teens based on what used to work or a focus of history and of the library’s historic place in the community. We can’t expect that the love of books that we might have had when growing up is what teens currently love and what they need, or want, from the library.
Similarly, the statement resonates because if we want to gain support for library teen services from community members we have to talk about what the library of the 21st century can do for teens. I think about the three hosts of Buzz Out Loud, who are not all that old, and think about how they really don’t have a clue. (Sorry Buzz Out Loud hosts but you didn’t really have a full sense of what the library can be about.) That’s not the hosts fault actually, to a large degree it can be seen as the fault of the libraries in the communities in which they live and grew up. If none of the hosts have seen what a library can really do for teens and a community then how can I, or anyone else, expect them to understand?
Obviously, one of the hosts has a preschooler and doesn’t think the library is of much value beyond what is provided to children. We have to change that concept, and the way for libraries to do that is by demonstrating a strong connection to the future and not the past.
Now I’m curious, what are blog readers techniques for advocating for teen services that go beyond the nostalgic feeling that a library might bring out for some community members? How do you sell what you do as relevant for today? Nostalgia is not going to save libraries! So, what are you doing that is?