This week, I sat in on a program held at my library to think about how it reflects the library and its community. We had an author, someone who previously lived in town who moved away after her husband was diagnosed with Dementia and needed more care than she herself could offer him in their home. He passed away four years ago, and she has since put her old journal entries and other stories and reflections together in a memoir about their life together.
As I looked around the room tonight, really considering what it says about the pull of the library, I saw dozens (an extremely good turnout…) of mostly women, over the age of 50, some well past that mark. In fact, during the Q&A at the end of the evening, one woman remarked how much she had enjoyed reading the memoir and how “very timely” the read was for her. In some ways, it makes sense that reading a memoir inspired by the passing of a loved one would spark thoughts of your own mortality and human fragility due to age, but it was a rather odd comment nonetheless.
I think that the crowd this speaker drew was very appropriate for the matter at hand, and the woman who was offering the talk. A woman, very likely in her 60s, talking about memories and the death of her late husband, would draw old friends and people in her similar demographic. This would be fine, except that the crowd tonight was not a unique occurrence for our library and its evening programs.
I constantly dream about the day when weekend and evening programs are geared towards capturing families and youth in fun and engaging programming in our library. When these very women who were in attendance this evening come with their children and grandchildren to explore intergenerational programming.
It is a somewhat regular conversation in our library among staff that it’s frustrating for the Children’s Librarian to put a lot of time and effort into planning and putting on programs for crowds that simply do not show. However, I believe firmly that there is a very vicious cycle in place at our library, and I don’t think we are unique.
The cycle goes: librarians attempt to put on programs to attract teens and youth; teens and youth do not attend programs for myriad reasons; librarians become frustrated with lack of attendance and do not offer as many programs for youth; youth do not see programs happening at the library, believe it is not a place for them, and are seldom seen.
Which comes first, the programs or the teens? It’s a struggle, and I think there is frustration on both sides– librarians not seeing teens wanting to participate, and teens not wanting to participate because they don’t see their interests reflected in the library. How does a library reflect interests they don’t know about, you may ask? The world may never know.
Certainly, there is a level of rapport and relationship that I believe helps youth feel connected to librarians and thus the library, and I think that it is a delicate balance for a librarian to ride the line of being seen as cool and also seen as being an authority figure. I struggle with this often as I find that many times the older youth in my youth group can feel more like peers than subordinates. In many ways, this is helpful for them to see me as someone they want to be a chaperone, but it is also difficult to tow the line of knowing when to pull the authority card, and when to hang back and “be like a youth.” I also think some people are better at this than others, and this is a key attribute to a good teen librarian or anyone that works with teens, really.
One day, my hope for my library is that there is an abundance of programming geared towards youth that happens during the evening and Saturday hours. I know first hand that teens are more and more involved in extra-curricular activities, and their free time is limited. However, it is also my belief that if an event is engaging enough, teens will advocate to make the time to attend events.
As supplement, it may be interesting to readers here to have a chance to hear from the author of this program. Rosemary Colt recorded an essay entitled Love and Adversity for Rhode Island Public Radio’s “This I Believe” segment, which was mentioned during the Q&A as having been quite elegant and well received by many when it aired. The essay touches on her relationship with her now late husband as he began his mental and physical decline.