Power and Children's Librarianship
I had a very reassuring conversation at our recent WI Assoc of Public Libraries (WAPL) conference with one of our YSS (Youth Services Section) board members. At the board meeting and meet and greet with our new state youth consultant, one of our veteran members said (and I'm paraphrasing here to get at the gist) that we need to step up into leadership and stop reinforcing the stereotypes of children's librarians as fluffy -headed, deely-bopper wearing characters.
As the young board member and I were talking over the meeting the next day, she said in relation to that comment, "You know, we are already there. You guys fought that battle and it's been won. The newer youth services folks coming in don't feel that same condescension and are already leading." And you know, she is right.
When I was coming up as a young librarian thirty-five years ago, it was unusual to see any youth folks in leadership positions outside of our unit. We were awesome in YSS but you didn't see us active in the WAPL committees and boards or on the larger WLA committee and board. We were developing leadership skills, camaraderie, networking support systems and life-long friends but we were not doing it outside our specialty. There WAS a patronizing and condescending attitude on the part of our colleagues who served adults. And why not? We were so insular that who could get to know us? Everyone was pretty happy for the status quo.
Then, about twenty five years ago, YSS people starting waking up and rocking the boat. If we couldn't get elected onto the WLA board, then we needed a seat at the association board to represent youth issues. We fought for it and it happened. We started nominating our youth mentors for association awards. And they began to win them and be honored for their work with youth. Members began to move from YSS leadership positions and run for positions in WAPL and WLA to be leaders among all types of libraries. We reached out and looked for friends and mentors outside of our youth group and made friends and networks across the association.
Today, it is not surprising that six of the fourteen WLA board members are school, academic or public library youth people. It is not unusual that three of seven WAPL board members are youth advocates. It is simply not astounding that youth people running for these offices defeat library directors and adult services people. It is not jaw-dropping when a youth person wins a major association award. New youth folks can enjoy the support of YSS but don't feel constricted by a leadership path that leads only to active participation at the youth services level.
But perhaps most important of all, in a reflection of the larger society, lots of the younger librarians are coming into the profession ready for leadership. They are already connected to networks through twitter, blogs and Facebook. They have taken risks and leadership roles already and approach work in the association and their libraries with confidence and skill sets. They present confidently at state and regional library conferences. They easily balance uber-storytime chops with reporting to the board on successful efforts to reach more families and kids and planning statewide conference programs. They have a quiet - and sometimes not so quiet - confidence in their power and ability to deliver the goods on the many stages of librarianship. They are less likely to wait, and more eager to leap in. Power doesn't dazzle or intimidate them.
Hey Rosie, we did it!!!! And I like that, yes I do.