Interview with VOYA Press Author Anthony Bernier
VOYA Press Presents: VOYA’s YA Spaces of Your Dreams Collection
An Interview with Editor Anthony Bernier
VP: What is your book about?
AB: VOYA’s YA Spaces of Your Dreams Collection is the comprehensive assembly of every YA space ever profiled in VOYA’s pioneering and regular “YA Spaces of Your Dream” feature that appeared in nearly every issue between 1999 and 2010. The forty-six YA spaces profiled contain detailed descriptions, photos, and commentary on small, medium, and large public and school libraries across the United States, including libraries with large as well as more modest budgets. My nine-page introductory essay places the progressive and still-experimental nature of these projects into the context of YA librarianship’s advocacy to advance professional YA service. This introductory essay also begins to ground YA space in larger contexts by reporting on a survey of these existing library resources. What we’re beginning to learn is that library service outcomes are dramatically improved in libraries that take YA space equity seriously.
VP: What is your interest/expertise in this topic?
AB: I’m interested in YA space because it’s been the most effective way I’ve encountered for convincing libraries of the need for better resource equity. Libraries continue to devote more space and design energy to bathrooms than young people. While YA professionals have long noted the disparities in resource allocations (staffing levels, time, funding, etc.) that alone has not consistently proven a successful strategy. But when libraries see the demonstrable improvements in service outcomes, it becomes easier to build influence and gain resources.
I’ve been studying YA space as a practitioner, a consultant, and a scholar for nearly fifteen years. I designed the original space and service plan for the first purpose-built YA space for the Los Angeles Public Library’s signature TeenS’cape in the mid-1990s. And now, as a scholar, I’m in the middle of my second Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) National Leadership Grant to more systematically study and document the impact YA spaces are having in/on libraries across the country.
Space reflects power in our culture. If libraries intend to offer young people ways to access and build power in our society, then we must take their spatial needs more seriously than we have in the past.
VP: What are the best features about your book that sets it apart from other titles on this topic?
AB: There are many features of VOYA’s YA Spaces of Your Dreams Collection that set this work apart. First, of course, is the opportunity to see, in one place, the wide variety of spatial solutions libraries have developed. These are the actual spaces—not check-lists of things someone believes would be good to implement. A second terrific aspect of this collection is the opportunity readers have to compare and contrast what real libraries have been doing by library type, size, square footage, collection size, among other criteria. Third, the profiles are written by library professionals (not architects or consultants). Indeed, most are written by practicing YA specialists themselves, people in direct service during their attempts to balance daily institutional, professional, and resource demands. Finally, and perhaps most important, the data and analysis in the introduction offers librarians, administrators, and policy makers valuable contexts in which to advocate for an equitable share of space for teens. While certainly easier to win today than in the past, the argument for YA space is still a long way from being a “sure thing.” So VOYA’s YA Spaces of Your Dreams Collection helps tremendously to build and substantiate a persuasive argument for spatial equity.
VP: How did you develop/research your topic?
AB: VOYA’s YA Spaces of Your Dreams Collection emerges out of my long engagement with the concept of the built environment in the public realm. My doctoral dissertation focused on the history of public space in urban America. My fifteen-year experience as a professional YA librarian led me to a critique of library spaces. Now, as a consultant and a scholar, I try to help libraries more deeply examine why we had nearly erased young adults from their share of one of our last truly democratic public spaces, as well as help them find ways to rectify this circumstance.
Ever since the first YA Spaces of Your Dreams profile appeared in VOYA in 1999, we essentially have been collecting examples of libraries taking chances and experimenting with spatial solutions. It’s a natural data base from which to examine patterns, explore options, and illustrate the creativity libraries across the country are exhibiting in their efforts to furnish young people with the spatial equity they deserve.
VP: Have you thought about your next project?
AB: My next project will be an edited collection of essays asking LIS youth scholars and expert practitioners to help us begin to define young people for our own institution. For too long LIS has borrowed our vision of our young adult library users from the psychology and education departments. YA library users are not research objects. Nor should they be reduced to mere “student” status. There are good reasons for this legacy borrowing, of course, but there are also consequences. So my next project will articulate some of these exciting questions and hopefully inaugurate a profession-wide debate about creating an LIS-specific vision of young adults.