At last month's CYPD (Children's & Young People's Division (of the Indiana Library Federation)) Conference, we had the pleasure of being yelled at by Michael Sullivan. Michael Sullivan is a librarian extraordinaire. He's a huge advocate for boys and books and he's also a huge advocate for children's services in general. Having been both a children's librarian and a library director, he's got some unique insights.
I've often thought to myself and complained to my fellow children's librarians, "Children's services aren't taken seriously!"
Think about this. Mike pointed out that in most libraries, circulation of children's materials accounts for 35-50% of the library's total circulation. But when it comes time to divide up the materials budget, what percentage goes to children's services. Any of you get 50% of your library's collection budget? I didn't think so.
And why is this so? Because we let it be.
If we want children's services to be taken seriously, we need to advocate for us.
And how do we do that? By getting the numbers. Find out how many people are coming to your programs. Find out what percentage of your library's circulation is made up of children's books. Collect anecdotal evidence of how much the kids at your library love you. Know how many reference questions your department answers each week. (If you don't have a separate desk for the children's department, create a reference survey that will enable you to find out how many reference questions are from children or about children's materials.)
As Mike said, if you can't prove it, it didn't happen. Get parents to write down their comments about how much they love the library, how excited they are that you got Little Johnny to enjoy a book for the first time.
Educate yourself. Attend conferences, workshops, and classes. Read a professional article a day. Join a professional organization and volunteer on a committee. Engage in the wonderful community of librarians (reading this blog is a good start, thanks!).
This same principal is applicable to library services in general. In light of recent library budget cuts, it's especially important to advocate for your libraries. Think about the people who are in charge of how state/county/city money is spent. Are they the same people who really need the services libraries provide? Are they the ones using library computers to file for unemployment? Are they Spanish-speaking parents who are learning about developing early literacy skills in their children? Are they kids who have nowhere to go after school? Odds are they're not.
The first step is to collect the data. Then we have something on which to build our case.
Library service to children is invaluable. I know it. You know it. But we need to be able to prove it. And then everybody will know it.
PS: If you ever get a chance to hear Michael Sullivan speak, DO IT. He is awesome.