Youth Services @ PLA: Stayin’ Alive!

The Public Library Association (in which I hold current membership) is having a conference next year. The program went up today and here’s one of the sessions on offer.

Killing Youth Services (on Your Org Chart): Redesigning Your Organization for Today and Tomorrow

That’s right, it says “Killing Youth Services”…I can’t even…But, it turns out I can. I can email the PLA president.

Here goes, for your reading pleasure…

Dear PLA President Sandlian Smith,
I am writing to voice my concern about a session planned for the PLA 2018 conference. The session, ostensibly about expanding and improving the reach of community services by doing away with age-group specializations, is called:
Killing Youth Services (on Your Org Chart): Redesigning Your Organization for Today and Tomorrow
From the description, it seems as though the presenters advocate the “killing” of adult, teen and senior services as well as youth services, but for some reason, youth services seemed the most appropriate to target in the session title. None of these program planners are or ever have been, from what I can gather from their biographies and work histories, actual children’s services librarians (Mr. Spicer has worked as a teen services librarian).
While I heartily disagree with the program presenters “generalist” approach to public library services, I am not here to debate the relative merits (if any) of their approach to organizing their own library. I am here to object to their choice of words. “Killing youth services”, although meant (I assume) to be colloquial and “funny” isn’t actually funny at all, but points to the ignorant yet privileged position these speakers all hold as leaders in the library field.
Youth services librarians, especially those serving vulnerable children and families, are performing some of the most valuable, yet still persistently undervalued, work in our profession. A relatively small, but still compelling, body of research (see selected references below) indicates that youth services librarians contribute to the betterment of their communities by supporting children’s and families’ access to literacy learning as well as other cultural resources and social supports. In my opinion, based on current events unfolding in the lives of young people, children’s services in public libraries and the youth service specialists who work in them have never been more important than they are today. I am very disappointed that the Public Library Association (in which I hold a membership) has accepted a program that denigrates such important work. Even if this title is meant in jest, the impact is the same: our work is undervalued to the point that it is okay to (even jokingly) simply kill it off.
Setting my objection to the unnecessarily violent language aside (I am sure you are aware that a children’s librarian was recently murdered at a public library), I do not find it funny to joke about dissolving any aspect of youth services in libraries. If anything, the Public Library Association should be elevating the status of youth services librarianship within public libraries, based on the current and very critical literacy, educational, cultural and social support needs of children and families. I would like to ask you to consider requesting these panelists rename this session with a more appropriate title. I would also ask that you carefully examine the rest of the conference program offerings to ensure that a balance is struck between this session and others that focus on the relative merits of, and strong rationale for, demographic/age group specializations, especially those that focus on the needs of young people and their families, within public librarianship.
Thank you for your careful consideration of this request. I look forward to hearing from you.
Tess, etc.
Then I included a references list. Do not mess with me! I have Endnote and I’m not afraid to use it!
Youth Services in Public Libraries: A Selected Bibliography
Agosto, D. E. (2012). More than Just Books. Children & Libraries: The Journal of the Association for Library Service to Children, 10(3), 36-40.
Bourke, C. (2005). Public Libraries: Building Social Capital through Networking. Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services, 18(2), 71-75.
Campana, K., Brouwer, M., Urban, I. B., Mills, J. E., Capps, J., Feldman, E., & Burnett, K. (2014). Connecting collections and cultures by creating a community of children’s librarians around early literacy storytimes. Proceedings of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 51(1), 1-4. doi:10.1002/meet.2014.14505101112
Campana, K., & Dresang, E. T. (2011). Bridging the early literacy gulf. Proceedings of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 48(1), 1-10. doi:10.1002/meet.2011.14504801134
Campana, K., Mills, J. E., Capps, J. L., Dresang, E. T., Carlyle, A., Metoyer, C. A., . . . Kotrla, B. (2016). Early literacy in library storytimes: A study of measures of effectiveness. The Library Quarterly, 86(4), 369-388. doi:10.1086/688028
Celano, D. C., & Neuman, S. B. (2001). The role of public libraries in children’s literacy development: An evaluation report. Retrieved from;jsessionid=8084EFC93F65A0F667D5736869F66C72?doi=
de Groot, J., & Branch, J. (2009). Solid foundations: A primer on the crucial, critical, and key roles of school and public libraries in children’s development. Library Trends, 58(1), 51-62. doi:10.1353/lib.0.0066
Denham, D., Elkin, J., Heeks, P., Evans, M. K., Armstrong, C., Fenton, R., & Lonsdale, R. (1997). A place for children: The qualitative impact of public libraries on children’s reading: Interim Report. New Review of Children’s Literature and Librarianship, 3(1), 93-103. doi:10.1080/13614549709510593
Diamant-Cohen, B., & ebrary, I. (2010). Children’s services: partnerships for success. Chicago: ALA Editions.
Kaeding, J. (2015). Opening access to public libraries for children with special needs & their families.  Retrieved from
Knoll, D. (2014). Babies in the Library. Public Libraries, 53(1), 44-47.
McKechnie, L. (2006). Observations of babies and toddlers in library settings. Library Trends, 55(1), 190-201. doi:10.1353/lib.2006.0043
McKenzie, P. J., & Stooke, R. (2007). Producing storytime: A collectivist analysis of work in a complex communicative space. The Library Quarterly, 77(1), 3-20. doi:10.1086/512953
McKenzie, P. J., & Stooke, R. (2012). Making a Difference: The Importance of Purposes to Early Learning Programs. Children & Libraries, 10(2), 47.
Mills, J. E., Bayo Urban, I., Campana, K., & Nelson, J. T. (2014). Hooray for research: A glimpse at an early literacy project. Children & Libraries: The Journal of the Association for Library Service to Children, 12(4), 32-32.
Naidoo, J. C. (2014a). Digital Media in the Lives of Children Diversity Programming for Digital Youth: Promoting Cultural Competence in the Children’s Library (pp. 35-57). Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.
Naidoo, J. C. (2014b). Diversity programming for digital youth : promoting cultural competence in the children’s library. Santa Barbara, California: Libraries Unlimited, An Imprint of ABC-CLIO, LLC.
Neuman, S. B., & Celano, D. (2010). An evaluation of Every Child Ready to Read: A parent education initiative. Retrieved from
Neuman, S. B., & Celano, D. (2012). Giving our children a fighting chance: Poverty, literacy, and the development of information capital. New York: Teachers College Press.
Neuman, S. B., & Celano, D. C. (2012). Don’t level the playing field: Tip it toward the underdogs. American Educator, 36(3), 20-21.
Peterson, S. S. (2012). Preschool early literacy programs in Ontario public libraries. Partnership : the Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research, 7(2), 1-21.
Prendergast, T. (2011). Beyond storytime: Children’s librarians collaborating in communities. Children & Libraries, 9(1), 20-26.
Sensenig, V. J. (2013). Protecting the core: Budget cuts and children’s programs in public libraries. PowerPlay: A Journal of Educational Justice, 5(2), 698-724.
Stooke, R., & McKenzie, P. J. (2009). Leisure and Work in Library and Community Programs for Very Young Children. Library Trends, 57(4), 657-675.
Stooke, R., & McKenzie, P. J. (2010). Attending to the Small Stuff: Notes from an Observational Study of Neighbourhood Programmes for Very Young Children and Their Caregivers. Canadian Children, 35(2), 4-9.
Stooke, R. K., & McKenzie, P. J. (2011). Under our own umbrella: Mobilizing research evidence for early literacy programs in public libraries. Progressive Librarian(36/37), 15.
Sung, H.-Y., & Siraj-Blatchford, J. (2014). Supporting family learning and interaction through information and communications technology in public libraries in Taiwan. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science. doi:10.1177/0961000614528967
Teale, W. H. (1999). Libraries promote early literacy learning: ideas from current research and early childhood programs. Journal of Youth Services in Libraries, 12(3), 9.
Walter, V., A. (2003). Public library service to children and teens: A research agenda. Library Trends, 51(4), 571.
Ward, A., & Wason-Ellam, L. (2005). Reading beyond school: Literacies in a neighbourhood library. Canadian Journal of Education / Revue canadienne de l’éducation, 28(1/2), 92-108. Retrieved from
Ward, C. (2007). Libraries as 21st-Century learning places. Language Arts, 84(3), 269. Retrieved from



2 responses to “Youth Services @ PLA: Stayin’ Alive!

  1. Dear Tess,

    Thank you for taking the time write to me and for bringing your concerns about the PLA 2018 Conference session on organizational redesign to my attention.

    We regret the word choice in the session title – it was our attempt at a catchy header that would attract attendees, and we clearly missed the mark in that regard. The title has been promptly changed, and I hope you will accept our sincere apologies.

    Regarding the session’s content, please rest assured that the presenter will not advocate the elimination of specific library departments, but rather will offer one library’s perspective on aligning staff by service areas rather than age groups.

    Rethinking library services and having healthy discussions about new approaches to serving our community is one of the purposes of our PLA conferences. We don’t need to always agree, but we are open to new ways of thinking. I very much hope you will join us in Philadelphia for the 2018 conference. I am looking forward to an invigorating and diverse array of programs and speakers.

    Most sincerely,

    Pam Sandlian-Smith
    2017-2018 PLA President
    Anythink Libraries (Adams County, Colo.)

  2. Thank you for your prompt and thoughtful reply, and action on this. I hope it is a fruitful session in which attendees are given lots to think about.

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