Y U No Respect Youth Reference?
I contribute to a statewide youth services blog and in the process of sharing a link recently and tagging the blog post, I used the label "reference". To my surprise, even after 578 posts on that blog, this was the first time that term had been used. I checked my own blog of 418 posts. Same thing.
It really stopped me short. And it made me think about whether and why- with all our discussion, posts, sharing and chat on programming and children's literature in the youth librarianship blogosphere - as practitioners we don't give props to youth reference, a less glamorous but very vital part of our work.
We are not alone in this.
When I first came to my present job, I know staff around the library didn't really respect the skills our youth services team had in the youth reference area. I consciously began to look at what we did at our stand-alone youth services desk and compare it to our stand-alone adult information services (we have a separate circulation department). What I discovered was...disconcerting.
Our Youth Services desk staff were expected to do many circulation functions (renew books; pursue missing pieces; decide on lost book and large fine forgiveness issues; hire and oversee shelvers of our collections). Adult Information services were not expected to do any of this. Their desk time involved reference, reader's advisory, research - so did ours. But on top of that were layered functions that took time away from our programming, collection development, planning and RA and ref.
I began to ask at management meetings why there was this tremendous discrepancy in job duties between the adult and youth reference desks. It surprised my management colleagues. Those were questions that hadn't been asked before. The more I probed and brought up the subject, the clearer it became to my colleagues that there was a fundamental inequity in the perception of youth service librarians' skills and work expectations for the service desks. "Do you do this at the adult reference desk?" became a question that was answered by realigning job duties to create parity between the two reference desks and returning circ functions to the circ department.
During this process, I also had to ask myself if a lack of respect among our own YS team for our professional skills and perhaps our acceptance of the "you work with kids, you are therefore a child and less powerful" paradigm, fed into expectations of our reference work being perceived as less valued. Certainly the team loved and adored programming and collection development work. But did we love the dig-into-the guts reference work we did with kids, teens and caregivers as much?
The YS team has worked on this over the years and I have seen a definite but subtle shift away from seeing themselves as a adjunct Circ point and more as the MLIS librarians and reference/reader's advisory superheroes that they are. But again it strikes me that we are not alone in struggling with this part of our professional lives in youth services.
What value do we - and our colleagues serving adults in the rest of the library - place on our reference and research skills in youth services? What do you think?