Nothing makes me crosser than hearing people talk disparagingly about teenagers. Apparently 80% of media stories about young people are negative.
Over the summer, I've been meeting some of the brilliantly responsible and thoughtful teenagers who've been volunteering in libraries over the summer, helping children complete the 2012 Summer Reading Challenge, StoryLab. This picture shows some of 40 young people who volunteered with Southwark Libraries - they were there to meet Nick Hurd, the Minister for Civil Society who came to hear more about young people's volunteering in libraries.
Young people's involvement in libraries' summer reading work adds a wonderful richness to the experience children aged 4-11 have, and helps thousands of them complete the challenge to read six books in the break from school. It's win win, as the young volunteers feel they gain hugely too.
18 year old Katie O'Dowdall from Essex says, "when you are studying English it's really easy to get stressed by not understanding a text, but when you talk to the kids and they tell you why they love a story, it makes you love reading again. I never expected children to teach me that."
Increasingly young people are volunteering through libraries - our Summer Reading Challenge Volunteer Report found that 62% of UK local authorities now involve teenage volunteers in inspiring children to complete the Summer Reading Challenge.
This is a very different model to volunteer run libraries. The young people are there not as replacement for professional staff, but as motivational mentors, who in turn gain skills and accreditation, increasing their chance of a place at college or even a first job as was the case for Jodie from Dudley.
Libraries have involved volunteers effectively for many years (just think of the housebound service). And now we are seeing growing innovation in their work to involve young people in designing services while teaching them communication, literacy and civic participation skills.
Last week we ran an event in partnership with the Association of Children's and Education Librarians and Arts Council England looking at best practice across libraries, museums and the arts in involving young people in shaping the kinds of services they want and will use. Phil Redmond (a bit of a national treasure) came and talked about why this is so important. He said that literacy is the second most important thing after sex - a phrase we might paste up on our office wall! You can listen to some more of his address here.
During the event some impressive young people from Gateshead talked about how they're working alongside librarians in our Reading Activists programme. It was inspiring to hear how they're injecting new life into events programming for their peers and attracting big new audiences to libraries - teenagers are far more likely to come to events planned and promoted by their peers. And they can't do it by themselves - they need keen, skilled librarians to support them.
There's so much evidence that young people are playing a positive role in their communities. So let's stop maligning them. They'd like that too - Reading Activists recently held a #Postive4libraries campaign and received a huge number of amazing stories and photos from young people doing incredibly creative and generous things in their communities.
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