Libraries and childrenThere’s an article by Scott Carlson in the new Chronicle of Higher Education (I’m not sure how long it’ll be available free) that has attracted some blog attention. It’s called (ahem) “Young Librarians, Talkin’ ‘Bout Their Generation.” We’ll pass over that title, but the article itself gives us some great insights from recently minted librarians about how they view the future of the profession. Because the article is college-&-university-library oriented, I’m going to surmise (and well, yeah, just plain guess at, too) what these under-40 librarians might have to say about our work with young people.

Nick Baker, 29, reference and Web-services librarian at Williams College, says that 3-D books aren’t going anywhere:

[The book] won’t go away for certain purposes, like sitting down to read a novel. It won’t be replaced in my lifetime, certainly — people enjoy books. But when you start to look at scholarly inquiry, people are relying less and less on them. The University of Michigan has a papyrus collection; the papyrus hasn’t gone away, but the ratio of papyrus to books is pretty low.

This is just what I see when kids come in with assignments. “Scholarly inquiry” for kids is doing homework or researching a personal interest, and I see them using 3-D nonfiction less and online sites and e-ncyclopedias more. But when they want to read Captain Underpants or Junie B. Jones, they don’t read books in those series online; they happily pack a book along with them.

Susan Gibbons, 37, associate dean for public services and collection development at the University of Rochester, was asked what librarians do well and what businesses [read: Google and its ilk] do better. She says:

Although we have been working on it for years with metasearch and federated search engines, we just have not gotten anywhere near to what Google can do…. So I think what would be in our best interests is to drop the fight, to let Google take over that, and instead to focus on the value add that only we can do, which is that in-depth research that we can do with our users.

Once again, Gibbons is thinking of a university environment. For us youth services folks, that means that the kids we work with don’t always understand the complex language they find online, and whether what they find on Web sites is appropriate to the questions their teacher has asked them. Someone needs to be there to refine a search and interpret what’s online, and help kids find the best materials for them. We’ve always been pretty good at that.

Brian Mathews, 32, user-experience librarian at the Georgia Institute of Technology (don’t you love that title?), was asked what [academic] libraries do well, and what they don’t do so well. He said:

One thing that we are doing right is a shift more toward a user-centered approach, where we are really trying to understand not just how we fit into something limited, like writing a term paper, but where we fit in the 24-hour life cycle of the students…. One thing I don’t think we do well is play nice with others, or really partner with other service units on campus.

What would that mean to those of us working with kids and teens? It’s pretty clear that our profession is paying a lot more attention to the – excuse me for using this anachronistic but appropriate word – “holistic” needs of the young people we serve. What do they need for school assignments, for their personal interests, for their well-being, for those things that don’t relate much to books, and for their parents and caregivers? What are the games they play, and what TV shows are they fans of? Technology still can’t relate, person to person, to a child or teen the way a real human being (i.e., us) can.

And as far as “playing nice with others,” lots of the libraries I know are doing a good job working with local schools, Head Starts, health clinics, and other community agencies. As we should be.

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