Library Songwriters: Skipton Rewind Club
and the University of Missouri

This summer a group of postgraduate librarianship students from the University of Missouri made a study tour of the British Isles. We led a seminar for them at York Explore Library on the role of public libraries in supporting social justice, with a strong focus on library provision for teenagers, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds. We were delighted that CILIP Libraries Change Lives 2012 Award Winners, Skipton Rewind Club, agreed to take part and give a presentation. They are an amazing group of young musicians who meet in Skipton Library every week to develop their songwriting. This YouTube clip and their blog give a taste of what they do.

It was great to have the viewpoints of the Club members, as well as those of the library students and of librarians from both sides of the Atlantic. Clearly there are lots of similarities between the States and the UK in terms of social disadvantage among teenagers, and barriers to library use. The debates about how to break these down and make libraries relevant and attractive to teenagers raised important issues.

Everyone was adamant that active involvement by teenagers in decision making in every aspect of provision and from the earliest stage of planning is fundamental to success. Library staff need to listen attentively to what young people say, and focus on their interests. Teenagers should have opportunities to co-run library activities, and be creative. Rewind members told us that libraries can do a lot to boost teenagers’ self-confidence.

Staff training emerged as a major priority: vital for combating negative attitudes and stereotypes, and to help library staff counter other users’ sometimes hostile reactions to young people.

To be welcoming spaces for teenagers, libraries also need places to relax as well as to study in ways that suit young people, and a teenage area well away from the children’s library. Libraries should review their overall focus, said club members: teenagers get the impression that libraries are disproportionately geared to children and ‘old people’.

Marketing is key. Libraries must spread positive messages to counteract their bad image in many teenagers’ eyes. Social media have a huge role, with YouTube especially powerful. Library staff should go out to talk with young people. Schools are an obvious place to promote libraries actively. Procedures should be addressed. Do forms really need to be counter-signed by parents, for example?

Introducing the Club presentation, librarian Claire Thompson explained that prior events at Skipton Library had attracted good teenage audiences, but failed to produce subsequent visits. Discussions with teenagers and partner organisations led to workshops with a musician and youth workers. Rewind was born. Claire told us her role uses traditional library skills: communication, facilitation and sign-posting opportunities.

The Rewind members then showed us how theory discussed during the day can turn into practice with a brilliant presentation on the operation and benefits of the club. They shared masses of ideas for good library interactions, and were full of praise for the support and encouragement Skipton Library provides, calling it a great influence and inspiration. Musician Rich Huxley’s workshops and mentoring were crucial, we heard. ‘The library is the hub of anything I wanted to do musically’, but the club ‘is more than music’. It has enhanced members’ skills in lots of areas, music of course, social skills and public speaking, as we witnessed, plus organising events, marketing, making funding applications, managing finances, blogging. Importantly, the club is entirely collaborative and each member works to their strengths. Rewind has changed their lives. In addition, it has been a catalyst not just for all sorts of music-related activities, but also for better community relations. Outdoor gigs attended by locals of all ages have changed attitudes towards young people. They have led to an increase in membership, and inspired other local young people to form music groups.

The club ended their slot with a scintillating performance of one of their songs. Students and university staff were bowled over by their contribution to the day. We were too.

The relationship between the Rewind Club and Skipton Library is a wonderful model of good teenage provision, with lots of valuable messages for the UK and the US, applicable even in tough financial times.