Skip to main content

AFT Voices: Jenna Young knows the true value of libraries

Jenna Young, a Massachusetts Library Staff Association (MLSA) member and union treasurer, has loved libraries her entire life. As communities turn to library systems and staff to help them navigate life, Jenna says it’s time to invest and truly serve our communities.

She says there’s more to libraries than you might expect, “I didn’t realize the vast range of services available to people before I worked here. We offer literacy services and English services for speakers of other languages. For some people, we are the only place to check their email or get help with computers and technology.”

The library is a tool for civic education too. The Immigrant Information Corners serve as education stations for the city’s immigrants and refugees. Jenna says, “To have a functioning democracy that welcomes everyone, there has to be access to details on how the system works and how to get involved. We have to have free access to that information to say we are a democracy, and the library provides that.” She recalls one of her most memorable experiences working for the library was when she helped a patron after the 2020 election. “They were new here, didn’t realize they could vote, and were questioning why they would get involved. I walked them through the process, and on election day, they sent me a selfie of them with their voting sticker. It was very cool to help someone see that they are a part of that and that their vote matters.”

While libraries work hard to meet the needs of their community, dwindling budgets and cutbacks mean that

essential services are not being adequately staffed and bankrolled. “It’s difficult because even with everything we provide, people have more needs than we can meet. We actually have a social worker on staff, and we want to do more, but there are limitations. As our social safety nets are stripped away, libraries are feeling it more and more. When you take away the funds for a library, you take away so much more than you realize.” 

Jenna acknowledges that it’s not just budget cuts threatening libraries, “We are under attack, and freedom of information and expression are too. We need to protect libraries because of what they provide. To invest in the library is to invest in your community. ” 

Supporting your local library isn’t just about the resources they provide; it’s about the people who work there as well. Jenna recognizes the ways in which AFT Massachusetts supports the staff through organizing and collective bargaining, “All people who work in libraries from top to bottom need to be paid a living wage. AFT Massachusetts provides that crucial groundwork to ensure we have fair wages and representation.” 

While working for the library can be challenging, Jenna says, “I have always loved libraries and books, but what I love about my job is helping people connect with the larger community and even the Country. We are an essential source and the first stopping point for so many people.”

Share This