International Youth Services Librarianship


“The fear and misunderstanding created by recent terrorism and violence have made it much more important to listen to and learn from the views of people from other cultures.”
John N Berry III, Editor-in-Chief 2003.

"Understanding the cultural origins of children’s librarianship allows contemporary children’s librarians to assess critically their own work in new ways and with a richer knowledge of the ideas upon which their specialty was founded."
Kathleen McDowell, Assistant Professor at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science, 2007 Dissertation.

"If we didn't have libraries, many people thirsty for knowledge would dehydrate." --Megan Jo Tetrick, age 12, Daleville, IN, taken from the State Library of Iowa page.


Despite differences in language and culture, customs and traditions, library services for young people around the world are remarkably similar. Worldwide, youth services librarianship focuses on early access to printed materials and literature as the right of any child. Access to these materials is provided through librarian led story times, rhyming activities, and parent-child lap sits (IFLA).

The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA)
The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) was founded in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1927 as an international and global voice of library and information professionals. The IFLA was registered in the Netherlands by the Royal Library in 1971. Today, the independent, non-governmental, non-profit professional organization spans 150 countries and has 1600 members. The IFLA aims to promote the worldwide value of libraries to society and education and believes in equitable access to information resources, as well as providing best practice resource guides to librarians ("About IFLA"). The IFLA guidelines for Children's Library Services advocates for the early worldwide promotion and provision of reading materials to children and young adults. The guidelines highlight research, training, experience, and learning in different cultures for children, young adults, babies and toddlers, available to read in 18 different languages ("Libraries for Children and Young Adults").

IFLA Guidelines for Children's Library Services

“Library services for children have never been as important for children and their families all over the world, as they are today. Access to the knowledge and the multicultural riches of the world, as well as lifelong learning and literacy skills have become the priority of our society. A quality children’s library equips children with lifelong learning and literacy skills, enabling them to participate and contribute to the community. It should constantly respond to the increasing changes in the society and meet the information, cultural and entertainment needs of all children. Every child should be familiar and comfortable with the local library and possess the skills to find their way around libraries in general.”

“The purpose of the guidelines is to help public libraries in various countries throughout the world to implement high quality children’s services.”

“The audience for the guidelines is practising librarians, library administrators and decision-makers, students and instructors in library and information science training programs.”

“By providing a wide range of materials and activities, public libraries provide and opportunity for children to experience the enjoyment of reading and the excitement of discovering knowledge and works of the imagination. Children and their parents should be taught how to make the best use of a library and how to develop skills in the use of printed and electronic media.

Public libraries have a special responsibility to support the process of learning to read, and to promote books and other media for children. The library must provide special events for children, such as storytelling and activities related to the library’s services and resources.

Children should be encouraged to use the library from an early age, as this will make them more likely to remain users in future years.
In multilingual countries, books and audio-visual materials for children should be available.”

Meeting Children’s Needs
“The United Nation’s Convention on The Rights of the Child stresses the right of every child to the development of his or her full potential, the right to free and open access to information, materials and programs, under equal conditions for all, irrespective of:
  • Age
  • Race
  • Sex
  • Religious, national and cultural background
  • Language
  • Social status or
  • Personal skills and abilities”

Excerpts taken from IFLA’s Guidelines for Children’s Library Services


Collaboration among librarians in the United States and librarians from other countries is becoming increasingly common. One early example of international librarianship initiated by Americans were the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) libraries (Berry). With the advent of new avenues of communication (i.e. the Internet, Instant Messages, Skype, etc) collaboration is much easier and can be more personal. Collaboration comes in all shapes and sizes. American librarians frequently travel to other countries to lead workshops (Weeks), invite librarians from abroad to visit the U.S., work to support poorer libraries abroad, and establish formal partnerships with sister libraries.

There are many ways in which American librarians can share our knowledge and resources with librarians from abroad. One option is for librarians from around the world to travel to the United States to shadow their counterparts in order to learn different ways to develop collections and observe American libraries in action. Some programs offer the significant benefit of having librarians open up their homes to host their visitors, giving them a place to stay that is not a hotel. This helps form deeper and better connections.

Connections like these allow librarians in the United States to have a better idea of the needs and strengths in libraries across the world. Frequently, no action is taken if librarians do not know what libraries specifically need or what they can teach. Once relationships are established, it is easier to create exchanges of knowledge and resources. For example, it is now common to see libraries hosting fundraisers in order to purchase books for a library a contact is trying to establish in another country (Weeks).

An unusual way to receive books comes from San Juan del Sur Biblioteca in Nicaragua. Its founder and president is Jane Mirandette, who is also a proprietor of a local hotel. She offered discounted room rates if hotel visitors donated a suitcase full of books to the library (Weeks). She then used the books to put together “Library in a Box.” A program that lends a box full of books to a school for a month. At the end of the month, volunteers pick up the box and change out the books inside to offer fresh options to the students (Weeks).

Another way to build relationships with libraries abroad is through formal partnerships like those offered by the ALA's Sister Library Initiative. The program was started in 1999 by acting ALA president and continues as a way for libraries to build lasting international connections (Bolt 1). Aurora Public Library in Colorado partnered with Silistra Public Library in Bulgaria and together they have set goals and shared ideas. When one of Silestra's librarians came to the United States, she learned about a successful teen volunteer program and was able to implement a similar program in her home library. Both libraries decided they wanted children in their communities to learn more about each countries' respective cultures so they shared books and gifts that illustrated holidays like Thanksgiving and Martenitza (Bolt 1). For more information about participating in sister library programs, visit the ALA wiki site.

What's Happening with Library Services in...

(More information on these countries can be found at


The Godsford City Library has an early childhood development program that lasts four weeks and includes bouncing and playing, reading material for parents, as well as a free booklet with all the songs, finger plays, and rhymes demonstrated in the program. It is a great way for parents to learn how they can promote early literacy development in their babies and toddlers, aged 6-24 months old.


"The strength of the Medvescak Public Library is in innovative approach and focusing on the needs of the local children and their families and on the right of every child and young person to literacy, access to information, culture and leisure," (IFLA). Reflecting many of the same services of American public libraries, the MPL leads story times and lap sits, author book talks, creative workshops, and computer usage for young adults.


In Japan, librarians from 18 libraries in Yokohama City meet weekly to discuss purchasing books for each of their locations. The librarians use evaluation sheets for each of the books they read in order to make the selection as objective as possible. Yokohama City libraries also offer story times for all ages, with nursery rhymes for younger children and storytelling for older children (IFLA).

In another part of Japan, the Fukuoka Prefecture's Public Library has separate rooms set aside for children's programming that children are allowed to use without limitations. The library's goal is "to understand the children's real feeling and interest for reading" (IFLA). The librarians achieve this by personally selecting books and putting those books into their patrons' hands.


In Malaysia, the Penang Public Library Corporation (PPLC) and the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development have worked together to implement the program: “Every Baby a Book.” The target audience is infants and parents/caregivers. Children are given colorful, bilingual cloth books (English and Bahasa Malaysia) to help promote early reading times between parents and their children. The program launched nationally July 27, 2007 (IFLA).


At the Klæbu Public Library and School Library in Boktras, Norway, Youth Services Librarians wanted to increase literacy and book borrowing among some of their younger patrons: preschoolers. To achieve this goal, staff from the library and local preschools spent "two days training with teachers from the Reading Center at University of Stavanger" (IFLA). The library increased its book collection for this age group, and then went on to share 200 volumes with the local preschools. Children are allowed to read the books daily as well as check out books to take home.

Republic of Korea

In Korea, the Korean National Library for Children and Young Adults targets preschoolers through third graders in their “Read and Play” program. The program partners with local libraries and the Korean National University of Arts, and its goal is “to promote the love of reading and improve the children’s (sic) language abilities.” It has already seen success in increasing patronage in youth services (IFLA).

Ulsan Public Library, also in Korea, developed another program, in which parents and caregivers can attend lectures and learn educational activities to do with their children. The library has also created “Book Start Day,” where children have the “chance to sing, play music, and read storybooks with [other] babies and children” (IFLA).

International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY)

The IBBY is “a non-profit organization which represents an international network of people from all over the world who are committed to bringing books and children together” (IBBY). The IBBY has a “policy-making role as an advocate of children’s books” (IBBY) and is non-governmental, with official status in UNESCO and UNICEF. IBBY has seventy national sections and collaborates with organizations around the world.

The IBBY currently has two major programs. The Children in Crisis Fund provides support for children whose lives have been altered by war, civil disorder or natural disaster. This program functions on the principals of bibliotherapy, using books and storytelling to heal the damage done to these young lives. The IBBY-Yamada Programme functions to develop a book culture in regions with restricted access to books. It does this through workshops, projects and scholarships.

Aboriginal Literacy Initiatives--Ontario

“By investing in the literacy initiative, Ontario is helping to open doors and possibilities for the youth of remote First Nations. With improved reading and writing skills, youth are better equipped to face the challenges of living in a knowledge-based global society. Investments like this highlight our steadfast commitment to Aboriginal youth.”—David Ramsay, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, June 20, 2006

In August 2008, the Honourable James K. Bartleman, former Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, gave an address at the World Library and Information Congress: 74th IFLA General Conference and Council in which he spoke about literacy among First Nation youth in Ontario. After a series of teen suicides among remote First Nation communities in Northern Ontario, Bartleman was inspired to bring literacy tools to these populations in an effort to provide hope to young people who had none. He said, “the schools had no libraries, there were no libraries in the communities and no books in the homes. And so I decided to mobilize civil society to fill the gap” (Bartleman 339).

With the help of province librarians, 2 million books were collected to help establish libraries in First Nations communities across Ontario. Bartleman also established summer reading camps, now run by Frontier College. The camps focus on reading, writing, math, and group activities. First Nations youth are hired as camp staff, as well. As of 2011, there were 32 participating communities (Camps). In the summer of 2010, 13,000 books were read by over 2300 children.

Bartleman also established annual creative writing literary prizes in the amount of $2500 each for twelve aboriginal children in Ontario (Bartleman 340).

Club Amick

external image C_A_Full_Logo_RGB_LG.jpg

In 2006, Bartleman established Club Amick, a program for children in grades K-6 designed to support youth literacy among Ontario’s remote First Nations communities. Four times a year, Club Amick participants receive a package containing one children’s book and a newsletter designed to promote family, community and school literacy activities. Each distribution has a theme, and books are selected by a team of three librarians according to determined selection criteria. The hope is that recipients will use the books to build their home library collections.

The objectives of Club Amick are as follows:
    • Promote literacy and a love of books among First Nations children
    • Provide continuity, through ongoing support, to participants in the Lieutenant Governor’s Summer Literacy Camp program and to other children in the target communities
    • Create awareness of and take steps to address the need for childhood literacy support in remote First Nations communities
    • Promote awareness throughout Ontario of the importance of childhood literacy

Books are selected for two age groups, one Kindergarten through third grade and the other grades four through six. The selection committee aims to choose 25 books per group per distribution to minimize duplication within households and communities. Some factors in book selection include quality of writing and illustrations. Another goal is to find books that are Canadian or aboriginal. Reading level appropriateness is considered for each group. The committee also considers the "life enhancing" (Amick) nature of each book. They want to choose books that will bring pleasure to the reader.

Originally a five-year program, Club Amick is now in its seventh year. 36 Northern Ontario communities participate, all belonging to the Nishnawbe Aski Nation. It is coordinated by the Southern Ontario Library Service (SOLS) and the Ontario Library Service—North (OLSN), both of which provide extensive support to Ontario’s public libraries. The program serves approximately 4900 children.

The Lubuto Library Project


The Lubuto Library Project is a successful program in Zambia that is sustained through partnerships with the government, community-based organizations, and professional groups. One of the best parts about the project is that it is owned and run by Zambians who are extremely committed to making each Lubuto Library "a special place designed for street kids and other marginalized children and youth in Africa."

Due particularly to the AIDS pandemic, many children in Africa lose not only one parent, but both, leaving a huge percentage completely alone. This project is meant to assist these street kids in being able to easily obtain and access information, have a space to interact in a social environment, and simply have a safe place to go.

Each library begins with a "world-class" core collection of 4,000 volumes that are cataloged in the trademark Lubuto system, and are then added to as time passes. There is a lack of Zambian books and stories, so artists and writers are asked to join in order to maintain some awareness of the culture. This provides children with a connection to their cultural history. The children that come to the library will have access to the same type of programming and opportunities provided by a library in the United States. There are daily story times, literacy and mentoring programs, and visual arts and drama programs. As far as access to information, the Lubuto Project also provides laptops, which are used frequently.

This phenomenal program lets anyone that wants to support the program donate. If interested, please donate as much or as little as you'd like here.

A Lubuto Library.

Children reading in a Lubuto Library.

The International Children's Digital Library

The International Children's Digital Library was initially created at University of Maryland and is a collaborative effort of "computer scientists, librarians, educational technologists, classroom teachers, graphic designers, and graduate students," (ICDL). Its goal is to connect children, teachers, librarians, and parents around the world to a digital resource that offers books in different languages from different cultures. In addition, if families move from one part of the world to another, the ICDL gives them the opportunity to still find books in their own language.

"In the USA and around the world, access to diverse multicultural literature can be limited despite the best efforts of librarians, teachers, and parents. The financial resources for collections are usually insufficient to provide diverse collections reflective of today's populations both in the USA and throughout the world," (White, et all).

Foundation Goals:

To create a collection of more than 10,000 books in at least 100 languages that is freely available to children, teachers, librarians, parents, and scholars throughout the world via the Internet. The materials included in the collection reflect similarities and differences in cultures, societies, interests, lifestyles, and priorities of peoples around the world. The collection's focus is on identifying materials that help children to understand the world around them and the global society in which they live. It is hoped that through a greater understanding of one another that tolerance and acceptance can be achieved.

To develop a greater understanding of the relationship between children's access to a digital collection of multicultural materials and children's attitudes toward books, libraries, reading, technology, and other countries and cultures.

To collaborate with children as design partners in the development of computer interface technologies that support children in searching, browsing, reading, and sharing books in electronic form.

To provide a platform for operational excellence that insures the Library grows in strict accordance with it strategic priorities and in a manner that leverages its outstanding human and intellectual resources to achieve the Library's mission of reaching as many children as possible with the best of children's literature (ICDL).

Osu Children's Library Fund

The Osu Children’s Library Fund began in Accra, the capital of Ghana, in 1990 when Canadian Kathy Knowles noticed a lack of literacy opportunities for local children. What began as a storytime for six local children has grown to include nine libraries in Ghana. The project also provides support for libraries in Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso, Uganda, Cameroon and the Philippines.

OCLF libraries form a library network that promotes literacy for children and adults. The OCLF works closely with local communities and supports cultural programming. Among programs supported are high school scholarships for “deserving library members” (OCLF), cultural dancing and drumming, music, theater, and the visual arts. OCLF libraries also provide food programs for those in need.

The OCLF works with local governments as a grassroots movement. They use local resources to build the libraries. They offer a free, three-week librarian training course and provide start-up book collections for communities. OCLF librarians come from the local community. The OCLF has a publication, “How to Set Up Community Libraries for Children,” available for free on their website.

How can YOU get involved?

Working abroad as an American

What are my options for working abroad?

Academic or School Librarianship

The first important fact is that finding a job in Europe is difficult unless you already have a European work permit, which few Americans have immediately on hand. At the moment, libraries that are looking to hire academic and school librarians are, for the most part, in Africa and the Middle East. These jobs are advertised on, ALA JobList, Inside Higher Ed, and Chronicle of Higher Education. The job application process is fairly similar to the U.S. application process, and requires a cover letter, resume and/or CV, and an interview, often by phone. These libraries will not pay for you to be flown to their institution for an interview, and because of this, some institutions may conduct group interviews in the United States at conferences and similar locations. These jobs often include "expat" packages including health insurance, moving bonuses, time off to visit the US, and sometimes even a furnished apartment. If you're not offered an "expat" package, make sure that the institution you are applying to is legitimate, as it has become common practice.

If you're interested in k-12 librarianship, there are more options. At every American Embassy there are American children (and usually an international school) that is in need of teachers, librarians, and other educators. These hubs are often located in capitals and major cities across the globe. Usually these schools have openings advertised at large job fairs in the winter and spring, looking for people who can start in the following fall. For those institutions who do not attend these job fairs, there is usually a job posting on their website. As with academic library options, make sure to thoroughly investigate your potential employer.

Non-Academic and Special Libraries

The United States Government hires many information specialists such as librarians for many positions across many countries. These jobs include everything from research librarian in Washington D.C. to an Embassy position in Cairo. These jobs require a security clearance and can take up to a year to be approved for. The best way to find these more general positions is through USAJOBS (

The U.S. government also hires Information Resource Officers (IRO), who often work at embassies. These positions are more specialized and are more akin to working in a special library in the United States. These positions also take a great deal of time to apply for, and require training in Washington D.C. before leaving the country. Military bases also hire librarians to work at military base schools, and these positions may be folded into the IRO heading.

NGOs also hire librarians, although to be competitive in areas such as the U.N., Doctors without Borders, and The Red Cross, you may need more than an MLS to be competitive in the applicant pool. The Fulbright Program can be helpful in gaining experience before applying to an NGO library position. Fulbright will help place a recent graduate in an overseas position for one year or less, and this time can be spent gaining expertise valuable to working abroad.

Librarians without Borders

Much like Doctors Without Borders where doctors head to developing countries to assist the people there with medical attention, Librarians have the opportunity to travel to developing countries and participate in promoting information literacy and reading with programs such as the Asturias Project in Guatemala. This program is approaching its 6th year and involves like-minded librarians who see the true inequity between developing nations and their own, and would like to do something about it.

The Future Development and Service of Global Children's Librarianship Conference in New York City

With a focus on global exchange in children's librarianship, a delegation of Chinese librarians and American librarians arranged this conference and hope to make it a yearly event.


For more photos at the conference, click the link to the Flickr group page.

The International Relations Round Table (IRRT)

Their mission is "to promote interest in library issues and librarianship worldwide." Their Free Links page is a great resource for additional information on international librarianship and advocacy.

ALA's Sister Library Initiative

Form a lasting partnership with a library abroad.

Additional Resources

    The International Relations Round Table (IRRT) through the American Library Association (ALA) Website
    (Promoting international advocacy and issues.)

    Global-e is an online global studies journal, which although is not singularly made specifically for youth services, is an excellent resource for finding out what is going on in the world in general in terms of technology and other global issues.

    Storytelling has been integrated into library services for decades. Find links to blogs, professional storytellers, storytelling collaborations in different regions around the world, and storytelling festivals on the International Storytelling Network website (primary language is Spanish with English accessible through Google Translate).


"About IFLA." International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA). 9 May 2011. Web. 27 Nov. 2011. <>.

Bartleman, James K. “Libraries and the First Nations People of Canada.” IFLA Journal 34.4 (2008): 337-340.

Berry III, John N. "Librarians Are Public Diplomats." Library Journal 128.12 (2003): 8. Print.

Bolt, Nancy. “Cooperation through International Partnerships.” Colorado Libraries. 35.3 (2011): 1-6.

International Board on Books for Young People. 3 Dec. 2012. Web. 4 Dec. 2012. <>.

International Children's Digital Library: A Library for the World's Children. Web. 15 Nov. 2011. <>.

Internationale Jugendbibiolthek Munchen: International Youth Library. Web. 15 Nov. 2011. <>.

"IRRT International Sustainable Library Development Interest Group." American Library Association. 2011. Web. 16 Nov. 2011. <>.

"Libraries for Children and Young Adults Section." International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions. 6 Apr. 2009. Web. 16 Nov. 2011. <>.

“The Lieutenant Governor’s Aboriginal Summer Reading Camps.” Frontier College. n.d. Web. 4 Dec. 2012. <>

The Lieutenant Governor’s Club Amick. Club Amick. n.d. Web. 4 Dec. 2012. <>

The Lubuto Project. 1 Mar. 2011. Web. 20 Nov. 2011. <>.

McDowell, Kathleen. "The Cultural Origins Of Youth Services Librarianship, 1876-1900." © 2007 by Kathleen McDowell. <>.

“Ontario Committed to Improving Aboriginal Literacy.” Ontario Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs. 20 June 2006. Updated 28 June 2011. Web. 4 Dec. 2012. <>

Osu Children’s Library Fund. 2012. Web. 4 Dec. 2012. <>

Petit, Joan. "Working Overseas as a Librarian for the United States or Non-Governmental Organizations." Web. 19 Nov. 2012. <>

Petit, Joan. "Working Overseas as a Librarian for the United States or Non-Governmental Organizations." Web. 19 Nov. 2012. <>

Weeks, Joan S. "Catch the International Library Development Bug! It's Highly Contagious at ALA." Colorado Libraries 35.3 (2011): 1-3.

White, Jane, Jessica Anthony, Ann Carlson Weeks, and Allison Druin. "The International Children's Digital Library: Exploring Digital Libraries for Children." Bookbird 42.2 (2004).