Haven’t written in a little while because I was in Philadelphia for the American Library Association Mid-Winter Meeting. Good times, occasionally inspiring, but it definitely felt like I was one step behind a lot of the really great lectures, talks, and presentations that were going on all weekend. Every time I got a text message I’d look at my phone and it would say “I’m at this awesome thing where r u?” and my response would be, “idk, eating a cheesesteak, c u later”. Oh well.
On Friday YALSA threw down a solid happy hour, and I was pleased to meet their officers. Young adult librarians are the best. I was psyched to hang with new faces, with my colleagues from Brooklyn Public Library, and with new acquaintances from New York Public Library.
Here’s a challenge spawned from observing some YALSA business.
I’m in agreement with Steven Bell that the year 2008 will be the year of innovation. I hope this means it will actually be the year of innovation, not just the year of “innovation” being the buzzword for business as usual. I think it is always wise to look to the young adult specialists at public libraries for clues as to where innovation is really going to take place. YA librarians do their best (and it is hard work) to keep up with the fleeting, impressionable, subjective, speed-of-light tastes of young minds absorbing information at peak pace, during the time that the human mind is biologically fit and hungry to consume and process text and images like machine gun bullets. Consumer electronics and their content are like jewelry to teens: the brand, the packaging, and the content all are part of a fashion statement, a statement of what they are as individuals and groups. Teens are early adapters with these technologies, which means they define the future of information formats via the law of supply and demand. If teen cash (or teen’s parents cash spent by the teens) defines what products will be successful, and we, the librarians, are supposed to be the innovators in providing service, it seems clear that we need to take a close look at what they want, at what is popular. The patrons define public library services, not the librarians.
This is my pitch to YALSA and YA librarians all over the place, this is the innovation I’d like to see in 2008, and this is the innovation I’d like to help with. In 2008 we will merge YA experts’ ability to recognize the energy and creativity with which teen patrons define successful information packages of the future with Adult Specialists’ talent for catering to the time-tempered wisdom and literacy their veteran adult patrons harbor. We will create services tailored not to young adults, ages 12-18, but to younger adults, ages 19-30. We will create spaces specifically for this group; flexible architecture that younger adults can customize to their liking. We will offer the materials these patrons are interested in, in the format they prefer, and we will make our libraries convenient for them to access. Finally, we will offer programs, exhibitions, lectures, and concerts relevant to their interests. Put as simply as possible: a 15 year old, a 27 year old and a 52 year old have strikingly different interests and needs, libraries need to recognize that and respond.
I wrote in an earlier post about how organizational structure must be consistent with policy for an institution to remain lean, agile, and adaptable to new ideas and change. Bells’ blog entry, and the two sources he cites (which are absolutely wonderful) are speaking of how to create an innovation culture in an organizational structure. Non-profit, public-sector entities weren’t necessarily the intended readers of these pieces, so they don’t really address the participatory role of library patrons in creating an innovation culture. We need to start reaching out to the younger adult patronage now, so they can help shape our libraries. We need to adjust our organizational structures to welcome and accommodate this group on both the micro and macro level. Individual libraries should have age-level specialists focused on this group. Library systems should have departments for “younger adult services” (though admittedly this may be a politically un-suave choice within the current nomenclature). ALA needs a division representing these interests as well.
Cheers to 2008, innovation, and public libraries serving EVERYONE equally and with attention to their unique needs.