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Friday, January 11, 2013

Is the end of libraries nigh?

by J.R. Wagner
The New York Public Library

Much speculation has been made about the future of libraries. Will they exist at all? Will they go the way of the brick and mortar bookstore?  How will the evolution of the Ebook impact our libraries future?

There are a handful of articles that address several of these questions in my post, Keeping up with the ever-changing publishing world.

I'm not going to speculate about how libraries will fail, why they are doomed or when the digital age will have made them obsolete.  In fact, I intend to take the opposite stance.  I believe that now is a critical time for libraries.  If they do what they've always done, they could become obsolete.  But...if they adapt, change, refocus, they will continue to serve the community for decades.

Rather than take a broad sweeping perspective, I'm going to focus.  With focus comes clarity.  I believe if libraries focus on adapting, changing and refocusing their efforts toward this one group of reader's experiences while in the library, then adapting, changing and refocusing their efforts toward the rest of the library patrons as well as drawing new patrons will fall into place.

Who will I focus on?  The young adult reader, of course.  The teenagers. The fastest growing, most untapped market out there. Don't believe me?  Read This Article by Publishers Weekly author Jim Milliot.  In 2011 book sales fell by 2.5% yet sales rose in the YA/children's market by 12%.

How can libraries take advantage of this trend?

Why does it matter where book sales are trending if libraries have always offered books to virtually every market imaginable? It doesn't...unless they take advantage of offering MORE than simply books.

I'm talking about youth services programs in libraries. Teen programs.  Many libraries have youth services programs or teen programs in place.  Some have been in place for years. For example, my library; The Chester County Library System. (I love my library!) It is comprised of 18 different libraries.  When I visit the home page of their website, what do I see?
Eighteen different libraries and two out of four information blocks are dedicated to 'Just for Kids' and 'Teen Space'.  Do they get it? It has certainly got their attention -the importance of offering more to the teen/YA readers. Is that enough?

Out of eighteen branches, it appears as though at least half have active teen programs.  Not too shabby, right?

The Chester County Library System isn't the only library system in the country that sees the value of the teen market. There are many libraries with active youth services programs.  In fact, the American Library Association (ALA) has a division called YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association), which is THE innovator for youth services in libraries.

I believe more can and must be done with these programs (nationally)  if they are to thrive.  If libraries are going to weather this storm, this is where the change must begin.

Over the next several weeks, I'll look at some successful programs and share some great resources.

More to come!

Are you a librarian? Do you have a teen program or youth services program? I'd love to hear from you.

~In the book world, word of mouth is king~
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