May 27, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

How Can Youth Services Staff Meet Early Learning Needs in 2017? | First Steps

After attending the New York State Library Association conference on November 2–5, and listening
to Rebekkah Smith-Aldrich and Matthew Bollerman speak about sustainability, I was fired up.
1701-FirstSteps-SustainabilityThen, November 8 happened. I began to think about sustainability and early learning in a completely different way.

The concept of sustainability

But first, what is sustainability, anyway? It means a lot of things to a lot of people, and it goes far beyond solar panels and LEED certifications. To me, sustainability means that the work I am doing is going to produce lifelong effects. With early learning, this is critical.

Schools are built for sustainability. They invest in lifelong effects by continuing to teach new things, to introduce critical thinking, and to push students to question.

Are public libraries, though, built for sustainability, and to produce lifelong effects? At a glance, it would definitely seem so. After all, storytimes and early learning programs—both interactive and passive, set up in public floor areas—teach our teeny patrons new things, introduce them to critical thinking, and push them to question everything around them.

The role of marketing

Yet in order to become truly sustainable, early learning librarians have to fully embrace the role of advocate for why they’re indispensable. That’s because as a profession, we are marketed almost solely around books. While books are definitely a good chunk of our DNA, scores of other things also identify us, including lifelong learning. We rarely market libraries as true educational facilities, however, which is an important piece of the sustainability puzzle.

During storytime, on-the-spot marketing of this type means extolling the virtues of talking, singing, playing, reading, and writing with young children to their caregivers. During desk shifts, this means talking about brain development and early learning during reader’s advisory interviews and program registrations. During meetings with staff, this means talking about the community of which the library is a part, and recognizing its needs. How can the library—particularly youth services staff—meet those needs? Is there a local group of new moms that meets outside of the library? Offer them space inside the library, or ask to attend their meeting quarterly to talk about the importance of early learning and library programs.

During meetings with your supervisor and/or building administrators, bring up the concept of sustainability, and connect it to your department. Where is the early learning movement going within your community? Why is your area of librarianship so critical? Ask questions. Research. Explore. Look at the library through an outsider’s eyes to see why some families still don’t use the library. Then make a plan to get those families involved, and pitch it to your supervisor. Take charge. Be a change agent.

The “sustain” in sustainability

Now back to Election Day. November 8 drove home the difference between the concept of sustainability and the word sustain.

Sustainability is something for libraries to strive for in the early learning circle. If we get them in as infants, our goal of creating lifelong library users is much easier to achieve. Our institution is bolstered.

The result of the election made me realize that in order for the library to sustain patrons, young families in particular, we must be seen as a safe haven for all. We need to make sure we are inclusive to all cultures within our community. Do you know the top three languages after English spoken in your community? Even if you do, does your signage, book collections, programs, and staff reflect that knowledge?

Mine don’t. Not yet.

Happily, though, 2017 is a new, sustainable year.

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This article was published in School Library Journal's January 2017 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Lisa G. Kropp About Lisa G. Kropp

Lisa G. Kropp is the assistant director of the Lindenhurst Memorial Library in Lindenhurst, NY, and a forever children’s librarian.