With the new year underway and the 2014 Public Library Association conference in Indianapolis approaching, we asked some experts working in children’s and teen services what trends they are seeing. What are the big issues children and teen librarians will be discussing at PLA? Read on:

The Common Core

“The number one thing people are talking about is Common Core and how libraries can adapt,” says Linda Williams, children’s services consultant for the Connecticut State Library. “The comments I’m seeing on listservs and social media about Common Core from school librarians are all negative and angry. I have read the entire Common Core document and am not entirely sure why it bothers people. I think that outside of the document there is the view that what students have to read is proscribed. On the other hand, public libraries are clamoring to support Common Core. They have seen the children’s room being used as a browsing place rather than a research place in recent years, and the number of kids’ research assignments has dropped off considerably.”

Williams believes that libraries (and publishers) now have a greater opportunity to show that they have materials not necessarily branded as supportive of Common Core, but that they have the most excellent book or books on a particular subject. “There is such great trade nonfiction out there,” she stresses. “I see it as my job to highlight that stuff any way I can. Common Core really talks about quality and that gets lost in the translation.”

Also in Connecticut, Melissa Yurechko, director at the Rowayton Library, sees the implementation of Common Core as a way to reintroduce her library’s wares to the community. “There has been a shift from report-driven books to having different kinds of books,” she notes of her library’s nonfiction collection. “Kids are not coming to the library for state or country information anymore; they use computers for that. The change is allowing us to make room for picture book biographies and other titles. Nonfiction doesn’t always have to be related to homework. There has always been compelling writing within nonfiction, but we maybe need to remind people of that.”

Yurechko notes that her library has been working at integrating the Common Core into programming, making the library more attractive to students, families, and teachers, and preparing it for more school collaborations. “Our book clubs are adding nonfiction selections. Our book discussion groups are additionally focusing on nonfiction concepts within the text. And we’re already looking at lots of different ways to support Common Core in our summer reading program.”

Library Spaces

“The big thing to wish for is digital media spaces, maker spaces, YOUmedia labs,” says Williams. “Everybody wants them and funding is not up to that. We are so behind European libraries [Swedish, Danish] in what we should be providing for our children. After all, they are the library users of the future, the people who will vote on funding. If we don’t make the library a good place for them to be, why will they want libraries to continue?”

YOUmedia is a prime example of the kind of programs libraries are clamoring for. Defined by its founders as “spaces where kids explore, express, and create using digital media,” it is based on research that shows kids move through three levels of learning when they use digital media, dubbed HOMAGO: Hang Out, Mess Around, Geek Out. More and more libraries want to model YOUmedia spaces and are learning to develop community partnerships to help with funding.

As an example of the race for digital media acquisition, Williams says that the “tiny” library in eastern Connecticut where she formerly worked recently purchased a huge 3-D printer to keep up with current trends. “Libraries are trying to find space for all of these things because they realize that having digital media is something they need to stay relevant.”

Connected Learning

“Librarians are talking a lot about the new research on connected learning,” says LeeAnn Anna, teen services coordinator for Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh (CLP). CLP’s Teen Services has been a part of the national movement around Connected Learning and Learning Labs in public libraries and museums.

The research, funded by the MacArthur Foundation, shows what “quality informal learning looks like,” says Anna. “It’s built upon three areas: it’s interest-based, it involves a peer-to-peer culture, and it needs to connect to academics, economics, and/or civic engagement,” she explains. “Libraries have always been places of interest-based learning,” she adds. “Teens have to make a choice to come in and have to make a choice to stay. The research is putting intentionality behind what we do, and justifying our work.”

Katie O’Dell, youth services director at Multnomah County Library in Oregon, sees aspects of connected learning growing in her community as well.

“Interest-driven learning is everything these days,” she says. “Asking what kids want to learn and creating opportunities for them in a place outside their formal learning environment is enriching not just to individual families but whole communities. We’ve long tied programming back into our library collection, but now we’re going much farther by creating series programming that brings kids back, and engages youth in creating content and experiences for other patrons, and offering caring mentors to create meaningful connections for kids with their library, their learning, and their community.”

Meanwhile, connected learning is a trend that involves other trends—for example, digital media is a key component. But even libraries with limited resources can be part of the movement. “It’s pretty amazing what you can do with an iPad,” Anna says, noting that CLP’s Office of Programs & Partnerships has a number of the tablets available for request by area librarians to use in programming.

Looking at the broader money picture, Anna notes, “It’s important to have the MacArthur Foundation at the forefront. With a foundation as large as MacArthur pushing connected learning as an agenda, others will look to follow them.”

Interest from libraries in connected learning is certain to increase. Last month Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) issued a call to action regarding the future of library services to teens and included connected learning as an essential element of the discussion.

A Technology Divide

“As we rolled out iPads filled with education and entertainment apps to all the locations at Multnomah County last year, the message from staff and families was clear,” says O’Dell. “The digital divide is real and palpable, playing out in our libraries every day.”

O’Dell says her library regularly sees children who have never experienced touch screen technology or app content, but are now exploring and eagerly signing up for repeat sessions. Kids who have never played Minecraft but have seen or heard about it at school can get a chance to build and create their own world at the public library.

“We monitor app reviews and purchase content-rich apps that parents might be hesitant to invest in, giving families who do have home access the chance to try things out while opening the door for kids who don’t,” O’Dell says. “On the flip side, some parents who are concerned about media and screen time aren’t so pleased to have this very enticing technology in the same place they go for their weekly allotment of books.”

Technology and the Youngest Users

“A lot of the wealthier, bigger libraries have iPads mounted and secured in the picture book area,” says Yurechko. However, she points out, having access to devices does not mean that everyone knows how to use them.

“What are the best practices for integrating technology and younger children?” she asks. “There is a belief from parents and stakeholders that you do tech help for adults and teens, but what do you do for younger ones? It’s an area ripe for looking at in new and interesting ways.”

Laying Claim to Early Literacy

“After years and years of public libraries learning, applying, and advocating about the importance of early learning and pre-literacy skills, it seems like everyone’s getting into the act,” says O’Dell.

“Organizations whose services have little to do with reading are now laying claim to ‘literacy programs’ in hopes of securing limited private dollars, sometimes in very sophisticated ways,” she says. That means that libraries that sit back on the issue risk missing out on key opportunities and resources.

“Librarians who assert their knowledge and don’t wait to be invited to the table of community efforts around kindergarten preparedness will best position their organization and their staff to make the greatest impact in helping young children with the skills and interests they need before starting to learn to read.”


Spreading the word about how valuable the library is remains a great challenge for many libraries today.

“Libraries are trying so hard to get the message out,” says Williams. “They are doing such great stuff and nobody knows about it. Marketing, public relations, partnerships, and advocacy are all more difficult to accomplish with fewer people on staff. Librarians always want programs about how to do that. Children’s services librarians are doing so many really interesting, innovative things; it’s amazing to me.” ■