Libraries column - Young people take charge of reading

Claire Styles
Opinion - Libraries Wednesday, 22nd July 2009

'When you get used to going to the library it's just like going round to your mate's house' - Alex Pendlebury, 15, from Woolston High School, volunteer member of Warrington Youth Council for Libraries. In the two years that The Reading Agency has been managing Fulfilling their Potential (FtP), the national youth strategy for libraries, we've seen a massive shift in engagement with young people (aged 11-19).

Previously, the focus was passive - waiting for young people to come in and programming for them. Increasingly it's about developing a conversation and sharing power. Youth volunteering is mushrooming, encompassing ambassadorial roles, peer mentoring for the Summer Reading Challenge, designing inviting HeadSpace 'read/listen/surf/chill' spaces and creative activities. The active participation approach brings increased book issues and visits, builds young people's confidence, self esteem and skills, and widens their reading.
'[HeadSpace is] so satisfying because we have been involved with it and it has worked!' - Phoebe Hill, young volunteer.

The North West FtP project demonstrates a powerful new type of creative conversation. In the beginning, 1,200 young people across 21 library services were involved in selecting or running a small event. Last year this figure jumped to 4,200, with young people being increasingly involved and committed to what was happening in their libraries: from designing them, to creating and developing reading group networks. Young people have now commissioned a design company to help them develop a campaign (launching in the autumn in print and online on to showcase what libraries have to offer other young people. The future is a conversation - to be part of it get in touch.
Claire Styles is Senior Project Manager at The Reading Agency ('claire dot styles at thereadingagency dot org dot uk')