Talk That Talk

Youth librarians have a toolbelt full of skills that make us successful working with kids. I'm thinking programming, eagle-eye/mind youth literature chops, organization and planning, creativity, advocacy, child development and behavior management know-how, budgeting, PR, partnership-making, IF, digital chops and far-future seeing.

But I have to say the one that is perhaps the dearest to my heart and present in the very most successful youth librarians (and really anyone who works with kids) may be the simplest and the one most taken for granted - translating adult concepts into readily understandable language that kids "get" immediately.

I'm not referring here to using baby-talk or talking down to kids in a patronizing way. Rather it's a way of reaching out to kids and thinking hard about how they see the world and matching our words to their understanding.

It's easy when we get into any occupation, hobby group or organization, to quickly become submerged into the jargon associated with that activity. I mean it's just the shorthand used with those we are in close contact with so we can zip through what we're doing. I would for-instance ALA's many unit acronyms that, while they scare some librarians, are really a quick way to communicate.

I applaud youth librarians who come up with great ways to let kids know how our library works or to introduce a concept. Here are a few samples from our shop.

How This Whole Library Thing Works:
During field trips, we  ask the kids who the books belong to (the librarians?  Nooooooo; the library? Noooooo; You?  YESSSSS!!!!)  The books belong to and are shared by all the kids and grownups in the community!  Then we tell them the library is like a house that the books live in. But books love to visit with kids at their house. With a library card, children can take home materials for a nice visit. And, just like a visit from a friend (we all know that visiting friends don't stay forever), the books have to return home to the library after a few weeks so they can visit with other children.

Old Maps = Google Earth?
During a tour of our amazing archives with middle schoolers, our archivist was showing the kids a huge old map book used for fire insurance purposes. Peeking over her shoulder, it struck me how to make the experience connect for the kids. Our archivist facebooked: "Shout out to my colleague Marge Loch-Wouters - when I was showing groups of 7th graders a Sanborn Fire Insurance map, Marge summed it up by saying 'This map is like an ancient Google Earth image.' Nailed it!"

The Animals Made Us Do It
When we closed off a running/jumping/general amok portion of our big boat, the preschoolers were a bit taken aback. But our colleague Brooke came up with a great way to navigate them through the change. She shared with the team:  "I’ve started calling it our animal boat.  Because all of our animals decided they needed a place to live, so they picked the boat. The other side is our “people boat”. If they say they want to go up to the giraffe I just ask, 'Are you an animal? No, you’re a person, silly!' "

How to Say It So Kids Listen/Understand
In her "Management with an Iron Fist" series and soon to be taught CE course and day-to-day work, colleague Bryce breaks down how to communicate in a way that kids can easily understand and get the behavior you expect. These now classic posts break it down.

What do you say to help kids understand how and why the library works that translates into real-kid-world understanding?

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