Everything Old is New Again

I always think it's funny - and a little bit sad - when bug-eyed articles come out about some aspect of adult library programming being trendy and pushing the envelope. What stands out is it's usually something that, in some format, youth services librarians have been doing for decades in their programs.

When I first read the Wall Street Journal article on programs being held on hog butchering and blacksmithing, I thought ho-hum. We've been bringing in sheep, snakes, horses, cows, giant shopping cart go-carts and heavy equipment vehicles for kids to explore and discover since forever.  Programming that informs kids by sharing stories or information books and then hands-on experience with an IRL thing has long been a staple of most youth programs.

I feel the same way about gaming. While most adult services folks think of gaming as avant-garde and new, new, new, I would argue that again, gaming has had a respected place in libraries for a long time in youth areas. When I first came to our library, we had a robust tech gaming program - wii, lan; computer games; multi-player games. But our gaming assistants also developed the seeds of Lego Club, board game night, giant Candyland and Pokemon Club; card games - to the dismay of the manager who oversaw the gaming. He insisted that wasn't "real" gaming.  I always disagreed.

Libraries have been providing and playing games with kids from almost the beginning of their existence. Think of chess and checkers clubs; scavenger hunts; book bingo; game-based SLP reading programs; Lego and Pokemon Clubs; board games available in the room for kids to play with. They have engaged kids in skills-building - math; engineering; problem solving; planning; and cooperation to name a few. When our city council balked at funding the computers and video games, our director used that argument to win them over. Electronic gaming is just another face of what we've always been doing in youth services.

Makerspaces are the new glamor-boy. Uh-huh. This blog post was jump-started by Amy over at Show Me Librarian who shared some thoughtful comments on arts and crafts and the nature of maker spaces.  I'm with her. Youth librarians have been doing makerspaces, again, for decades. Programs that provide kids with hands on time to create paper airplanes or tissue box racecars; moebius strip making; knitting; crafting; building; Legos; science experiments...I could go on and on. Youth librarians have been working with kids to grow skills, to create opportunities for them to create and make since forever.

In many ways, it's all in the branding. Here at our library, we tend to embrace any new paradigm that comes along (Harlem Shake dance next?). I think of it in the same way as hopping on the PR train for children's book film premiers or debuts of popular children's books and creating a program to capitalize on the hype. So, for these new adult bandwagon efforts: DIY? Re-brand craft programs and scrapbooking. Gaming? Re-brand Pokemon club. Tech Creator Space? Re-brand cartooning; writing; creating book trailer programs. Makerspaces? Re-brand Legos clubs; science discovery programs and more.

But, in a deeper way, this "second-coming" hype also speaks to me about the disdain or dismissal or outright ignorance by others in our profession of efforts by youth folks. It's echoes what Julie was speaking about at Hi Miss Julie when she addressed the issue of power and youth librarianship (and the plethora of commentators who.so.missed.the.point). There may be some adult services librarians who realize that the programs and spaces they are now creating are based on efforts in programming that youth librarians (and others who work with kids in schools and youth serving organizations) have been doing since the beginning of children's spaces in libraries in the last century. People have come before. In the same way I admire, emulate and credit great efforts by colleagues serving all ages in all types of libraries, I hope to see that same reciprocity from all my colleagues serving other ages.

Will it happen?  You tell me.


  1. I had a colleague who outspokenly derided my "DIY" programs despite their success in engaging kids in the library. I outlasted her (no surprise there) and I've been wondering lately if she's aware of the DIY/Make movement and if she's even more bitter.

    When I think of Makerspaces I think of 3D printers and workshops with wood tools, etc. We've always done "makerspaces" in the way being talked about now. Our annual "Craft Buffet" is apparently a makerspace. On one hand I'm just glad the press gets people jazzed about more open ended activities, but it would be nice if youth services folks got more credit for being innovators in the library world.
    Yesterday I wondered out loud why adult services doesn't do bands during the summer or concerts in the park. An email went out on a local listserv about a comedy routine for adults that was interested in coming to libraries. Youth services already does this EVERY SUMMMER. Will this be the next BIG, NEW thing in adult services. I hope so.
    And it would be fabulous for youth services to be credited for doing it first, but I'm not holding my breath.

    1. You're welcome. This has been buzzing in the back of my brain since I first saw the WSJ article. We been there!!!!

  3. You are such a genius. Brava. And this reminds me, I need to finish my series about what other librarians can learn from youth services...

  4. Will it happen? Not in my little corner of the library world! Ever since the Children's SRP numbers increased waaaay over the Adult numbers, our director makes a point of putting us in our place. She resents bitterly any patron's suggestion that they are at the library now because of their kids. Of course, the fact that her spouse is the head of adult services may be the problem... ya think?