An interview with Sarah Flowers, author of YOUNG ADULTS DESERVE THE BEST

YALSA president-elect Sarah Flowers recently authored Young Adults Deserve the Best: YALSA’s Competencies in Action, which expands on YALSA’s competencies for librarians serving youth and gives practical advice and examples for fulfilling those competencies. Sarah was kind enough to answer a few questions about her new book.

GK: You were on the taskforce that updated YALSA’s Competencies for Librarians Serving Youth. What were the most important things you wanted to see changed in the newest version?

SF: I wasn’t on the Board when they decided that the Competencies needed to be updated, so I just tried to look at them with fresh eyes when I was appointed to the taskforce, and the other members did, too. We thought they were really good competencies, but we all began to notice that there were some repetitious parts, and we also thought that the language was perhaps a little too academic, so our goal was to streamline them.

GK: What motivated you to not just serve on that taskforce, but to write this book as well?

SF: Most of my library career has been spent as a manager. And as a manager, I tend to look at things in terms of: “How can I help librarians grow and get better at their jobs?” “What can I do (or provide) that will help these people develop and be better able to serve our population?” And the competencies fit that. They give a framework for growth and professional development. And in writing the book, I had a chance to really focus on how a front-line librarian (even one without a lot of administrative support) could grow and become a better YA librarian.

GK: Looking over the list of competencies, the sheer number of qualities and areas of knowledge that librarians working with teens should have can feel overwhelming. What advice would you give someone for prioritizing the competencies and knowing which to focus on developing first? Is there one competency area that you think is the most important or that is essential to have to fulfill the others?

SF: I think it depends on two things: what a specific librarian feels that he or she lacks, and what actually can be accomplished. Some things it’s really hard to do if there is no budget, or no support from library management. So you look at the whole thing, and work on the little pieces that you can manage. In terms of a most important area, I do think that Leadership and Professionalism are critical. I think that in a lot of ways they lead to all the others–especially in those situations when you’re on your own, without a lot of support. Be professional, be a leader, and you will be able to work toward achieving the other things.

GK: In the book, you mention a few times that these competencies aren’t so much a list of qualities those in entry-level positions should have so much as a vision for YA services that librarians grow into throughout their careers. Which competencies do you think take the most effort or time to develop?

SF: Again, it depends a lot on the individual, and their own gifts, talents, and background. Some people are natural advocates and communicators, so that part isn’t a problem for them, but maybe they have a tough time doing the administrative stuff. Others may be great at programming and services in the library, but shy about making the case for YA services to administration, or to elected officials, or even in doing outreach.

GK: You’ve had an impressive career so far with your work in libraries as a YA librarian, adult and YA services supervisor, library manager, and most recently as the deputy county librarian for the Santa Clara County Library in California; your previous books and articles; and your recent election as the 2011-2012 president of YALSA. Are there competencies you still feel like you’re developing?

SF: Oh, always! I think I am always working on being a better advocate for teens and teen services, and communicating their needs to the wider world. Also, because I jumped fairly early into management-level positions, I never felt like I had a chance to develop skills in programming for teens, so I’m really in awe of some of my YALSA colleagues who have been able to create terrific programs with and for teens.

GK: What do you think the biggest hurdle is in providing quality services to teens, and how can a librarian who may be working with a small budget or working in a department of one do to overcome that hurdle?

SF: I think lots of times it’s just inertia or lack of knowledge: “we’ve never done this before and we don’t know how and we don’t know why it’s important.” But I think attitude is key. And that’s where leadership and professionalism come in. If you can take your enthusiasm for serving teens and your knowledge of their needs and desires, and convince others on your library staff that services for teens are important, you can overcome any hurdle. It won’t necessarily be quick or easy, but there are plenty of success stories out there.

Thanks a lot, Sarah!