Evidence Base and Manchester Met’s School of Childhood, Youth and Education Studies recently worked together in order to develop a set of principles for libraries to use when working collaboratively with young people. The work was commissioned by ASCEL in association with the Reading Agency and funded through the Paul Hamlyn Foundation.
Some libraries were already using a set of 7 quality principles that were devised for Arts Council England, but these were general in nature, and not not really specific enough for libraries. Libraries have been encouraging young people to take up volunteering roles, such as being a pupil library assistant at a school library, or a reading mentor for younger children at a public library. The uptake of the Summer Reading Challenge by libraries during the school summer holidays has provided volunteering opportunities for young people to help with reading activities at their local library. In some cases this has lead them on to getting a part time job in the library and has helped them with university and job applications, because it is a valuable experience to add to their CV.
Libraries are places where young people can learn skills useful for their working life, experience roles of leadership, responsibility and mentoring with adult staff who can help, advise, guide and encourage their skills. It was this aspect of libraries in mind that ASCEL wanted to provide library staff and management with a set of tailored principles to help them give young people such opportunities.
We approached this project from two different directions. One was to take the existing Arts Council quality principles, and ask the young people what they thought about them. This was done first of all with a survey that attracted 346 answers. At a later stage in the project, after analysis and input from the second direction, my colleague took our fledgling ideas for principles to a focus group of young people.
The other direction was to pretend that the Arts Council principles didn’t exist, and to explore the thoughts of adults who already work closely with young people as volunteers from a range of different organisations. For example, school librarians, youth workers, volunteer co-ordinations and uniformed youth groups, especially those which helped young people develop leadership and caring roles. We wanted to find out what principles they were already using, and what principles would they recommend. We compared what the young people and want the adults said, with the existing principles, and there was an encouraging amount of overlap.
The Arts Council principles are these:
- Striving for excellence and innovation
- Being authentic
- Being exciting, inspiring and engaging
- Ensuring a positive and inclusive experience
- Actively involving children and young people
- Enabling personal progression
- Developing belonging and ownership
After our analysis and discussion we changed them to these:
1- Ensuring a positive and inclusive experience for all young people
2- Being fun, exciting and inspiring for young people
3- Developing community belonging and ownership for young people
4- Being trustworthy, reliable and relevant
5- Listening to, valuing and involving young people
6- Working together for excellence and accessibility
7- Enabling young people’s life chances, confidence and well-being
The most noticeable changes were these: dropping the principle “being authentic”, because neither young people nor adults fully understood the implications of the word “authentic”; and that although young people wanted their opinions taken seriously, they did not necessarily want to run and lead events. We inserted “Being trustworthy, reliable, and relevant” because both adults and young people considered that trust was an essential commodity for working in collaboration. Adults emphasised the need to “engage” with young people, but curiously, the young people just wanted to have fun. I feel that they were both meaning that the work should be enjoyable, and we used the word fun, because it is so much nicer than being engaged.
The full report is on ASCEL’s website, and if you work in libraries, there are extra resources of how you can use the principles.