When Team Librarian, Jane Rimmer, began working with young people she felt apprehensive. Although she had worked with primary school children in the past, she had little experience of working with teenagers and was therefore slightly daunted by the prospect.
But Jane didn't let her feelings get the better of her, and when St Helens Library Services started working with Reading Activists, she was willing to take part.
A difficult start
The Reading Activists' in St Helens first task was to organise a Roadshow, so Jane and her colleagues began working with the group of young people on this.
But it wasn't straightforward. The group were challenging and difficult, and Jane found that she struggled to communicate with them.
"They just weren't used to sitting down in a group to plan things. They talked over us and each other, they were rude and they spent the time looking at their mobile phones instead of contributing to the group."
Jane and her colleagues decided that, in order to make any progress, they were going to have to do something different. So, they decided to establish ground rules. However, they didn't just impose a set of rules on the young people. They knew that wouldn't work. Instead, they asked the young people to make the rules.
"They came up with the rules themselves. We even had a box in the middle of the table, so if anyone used their phone during a meeting, it would have to go into the box. It was the same for us too. We all used to joke about it."
Slowly, the group began to work better together. The ground rules meant that the group could concentrate on the task to hand. Jane and the team noticed that the young people began to flourish as they became more involved in planning the Roadshow and the hard work that came with it.
The hard work paid off and the Roadshow went down a storm. They had a comic book workshop, a digital skills workshop, an author talk from Bali Rai and a live music gig in the evening with band Dutch Uncles.
A new attitude
Jane has found that the experience has really changed her attitude. She no longer worries about talking to young people, in fact she is confident with them.
"You realise that you've just got to talk to them and engage with them. Don't think about how they dress, or how they might behave, just talk to them and you might get something rewarding out of it."
Jane has also found that working with Reading Activists has given her a confidence in her work that has been noticed by her manager. Jane was given positive feedback about her work with young people in her most recent appraisal and has now been given the responsibility of chairing project meetings.
"Jane has built good relationships with the young people, and I have seen her confidence develop. She has a real rapport with them" said Kathryn Boothroyd, Community Development Manager at St Helens.
Jane has also seen the attitudes of the young people change for the better. As they've got to know libraries and the people that work in them, they have been surprised to find places that they can enjoy being in and people that they can build positive relationships with.
"They realise that we're not old fashioned librarians, but that we've got the same interests as them. I think they were surprised that we knew who the latest band or sports celebrity was, but now they've got to know us, it's given us a bond."
Jane's tips for working with young people
- Ask lots of questions
- Get to know popular music so you can speak the same language
- The same for sport, it's an easy way in
- Listen and respect their views
- Don't be afraid to be firm and set up clear guidelines from the beginning
- Have fun!
If you work with young people and would like to share your stories or tips with us please contact Kathleen.Ktorides@readingagency.org.uk
Find out more about Reading Activists and the kind of activities which take place at the groups by watching a new series of films Hounslow Reading Activists created with Verdant Films and illustrator Jack Noel.