Libraries across the country are being stripped of their budgets. Public and secondary school libraries are fighting to justify their continued existence despite their clear value, both as cultural pillars and as top providers of value for money (free books and information, anyone?). It seems like the worst time to add new programmes, particularly teenagers a demographic with whom so many are uncomfortable. Regardless, the United Kingdom needs teen library services more than ever.
Why provide a new teen offer that will require libraries to further justify their own competence, purpose and budget? Because British secondary schools are dropping in international ranking and “literacy standards ‘fall short’”. Because regardless of the demonstrable value of secondary school libraries, they are currently under threat. Because despite the fact that students who lack books at home and the internet are “disadvantaged in education”, disadvantaged and excluded young people continue to be neglected. Because next year increases in university fees will make entering higher education untenable for many bright young people. And because regardless their ability to improve the quality of life of young people and reduce social problems, youth clubs are also threatened by budget cuts.
For years public libraries objected to budgeting for teen programming on the grounds that secondary school and college libraries provided information, and youth clubs provided social experiences (nevermind encouraging teens to read for pleasure, or engaging them with cultural experiences and opportunities). Now that those services are being stripped, there is an even stronger case for teens library spaces and programmes, for cultural and literacy promotion.
During economically lean and difficult years, library programming for teens can help raise their quality of life. There is a fresh demand for youth education and cultural enrichment, creative literacy programmes for young people, and teen spaces, activities and clubs. Most of all there is a dire need for adults deeply committed to providing relevant and resonant services to young people, adults who connect and collaborate with local teens. Libraries are in the perfect position to provide dedicated staff and new programmes for youth.
Now libraries have the opportunity demonstrate how essential they are for the next generation. Provide warm, safe space for teens, fun educational experiences and games, promotion of pleasure reading, homework and study help, and workshops to teach new skills, and you’re likely find an ever-increasing teenage audience in your idea.
Libraries are not some panacea for nationwide budget problems, nor are fully-formed teen library services going to appear overnight. However, there is a great chance to provide a vital service to young people who might not otherwise have the opportunity or motivation engage with reading and other types of enriching experiences. Let’s nurture burgeoning opportunities for young people. It can and will positively impact the lives of teenagers.
Please check back within the next few weeks to read more posts about how to cultivate teen services at your library on a shoestring and with limited staff.