Short Paper #1

Susan Lee

One of the primary sources that I selected is a 2013 program report on youth services in the Boston Public Library (http://www.bpl.org/kids/files/2012/01/YS_Program_Rpt_06.21.13.pdf). The other primary source that I selected is the 2014 Grand Island Public Library Progress Report (http://www.grand-island.com/home/showdocument?id=9193) focused on its services promoting lifelong learning and literacy. Although it is not dedicated solely to its youth services, a large portion of the report is dedicated to children’s services.

The Boston Public Library report is 129 pages long. In order to implement consistent and high-quality youth services, Boston Public Library conducted surveys and in-depth interviews with patrons, library staff, and several other public libraries respected for their youth services. It is thorough, containing information about providing effective youth services, use of marketing, volunteer program information, and technology as well as challenges that public libraries face. It also includes a summary of youth services provided by the Boston Public Library, its mission and goals, community demographics, staff and organization, space design, programming, target audience descriptions, and special collections. It contains detailed information such as youth services budget allocations, patron statistics, and programming attendance numbers.

The Boston Public Library report is divided in four sections: the first is a survey of current library offerings for children and teens, as well as anecdotes from staff and patrons (both parents and teens); the second contains comparisons between Boston Public Library and several other innovative and respected public library systems (in both suburban and urban areas); the third section contains goals that the Boston Public Library has; the fourth section contains its short and long term goals for the future of Boston Public Library complete with strategic recommendations. There are also appendices at the end that contain the best practices peer libraries interview summaries, patron and staff survey results, and meeting minutes. The report helps identify both strengths and weaknesses in the Boston Public Library System as well as recommendations for improvement. They recognize gaps in service and a need to address it but not how or why.

The central question that is drawn from this report is how do you measure the outcome of youth services programs with pre-existing goals and priorities at the end of the year? It is an annual process that is on-going and changing. Is the year successful if you have executed a set number of early literacy workshops or story times with a set number of families or children reached, a set number of library cards issued to youth, or desired percentage of parents reporting improvements in academic performance in their teens? The goals should be realistic, specific, and attainable.

In comparison, the Grand Island Public Library report is a more concise eight-page long document. Similarly, it also outlines the services and programs it offers including an on-site literacy-based Children’s Discovery Center with a large book collection, rotating schedules of programming including art classes, bilingual reading programs, and story times. The report offers statistics regarding its youth service activities including the number of programs held and attendance counts but it doesn’t differentiate between them unlike the Boston Public Library report summary. Teen Summer Reading Programs are counted as an activity just like toddler story times and outreach community events. Calendars, budgets, demographics, descriptions and trends are not provided.

The short report seems to be a positive-based document aimed at its community, specifically their patrons and tax-payers to advertise and promote its services rather than a critical look. The use of photographs and book cover images instead of charts and graphs is indicative of a “feel-good” approach. The report identifies its Grand Island, Nebraskan community as “diverse” and states that it meets their needs but does not identify how or why unlike the Boston Public Library report.

They extrapolate a 27% Hispanic or Latino population from a 2010 U.S. Census but what about the rest of the population? Communities are rapidly changing especially in the four years between that census and the time the report was written. They also cite a 2010 National Citizen Survey conducted by the city instead of conducting their own survey or interview. The report describes their Spanish-language programming and collection offerings so we can assume there is a large Spanish-speaking population though. The report also states that 2,000 grade school kids enrolled in their summer reading program. While that number is impressive, there is no baseline measurement to other similar programs or a follow-up on participants for further information.

Enrollment or attendance is not a complete measurement of success or analysis. If they enrolled, did they complete the program? If so, how many books did they read? Was it more than they would have read or the same amount? Did they enjoy the program? What did they not enjoy about it? A survey could have been an effective method of reaching its young patrons or their parents. Like the Boston Public Library, they identify recent changes to their technology, marketing, and programming that have been made. They also go into depth analyzing and updating their collections – including electronic sources and describe their teen volunteer activities. Unlike the Boston Public Library, they describe changes made to their social media and website improvements in order to increase public outreach.

The Boston Public Library report recommends library branches “reimagine and invest in space, staff and services for teens.” Although they did not consult with anyone or go into details, the Grand Island Library report states that they devoted more space to create a teen-centered area. It may not be as detailed but the Grand Island Library progress report does identifies future goals and priorities which consists of 9 bullet points though it does not describe any solid plans. The central question is what services and benefits does the public library provide to the community.

Whereas the Boston Public Library progress report is a detailed well-researched primary document seemingly produced for internal use and the benefit other public libraries in achieving and maintaining a consistent and high quality youth service program, the Grand Island Library progress report is a summary of its programs, services, and their value as well as advertisements of recent changes. Any public library struggling or already excelling in youth services would do well in referring to the Boston Public Library report. It is like a how-to manual with descriptions of exceptional youth services. The Grand Island Library report would be more beneficial to its direct community.

One thing missing in the Boston Public Library report is the feedback or input from library non-users. They describe a focus on early childhood literacy and increasing readership among patrons but they don’t or can’t include non-patrons or non-library users. There is a brief mention of outreach within the Boston community while the Grand Island Library report mentions mobile outreach via crates of children’s books being delivered to local preschools and improved public transportation/ pedestrian and bicycle access to the library, which would be beneficial to youth or low-income families. Information or feedback from non-library youth users is the thing missing from both reports and would be useful in any future planning. But it is likely lacking due to a variety of factors despite what outreach both library systems have made.

The question becomes centered on how do you find these types of people that haven’t already been tried? To what extent do you divert limited resources away from existing users to reach non-users in order to serve the latter? Is there a way to alter the habits of non-users? Both the Boston Public Library and Grand Island Public Library already do outreach to schools and community events. It becomes like a see-saw or perhaps a merry-go-round.

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