Ask a Teen Services Agent: How Do You Get Teen Services Love & Support?

askanagent2You’ve got questions,  we’ve got answers! Our volunteer Agents are on the job! Here’s what they have to say this week….

Question: I feel like teen services is still the least funded, least supported, least staffed area of the public library. I’m told it is to be expected because children’s services is always on top. How do we get that to balance out? How do we our managers to share the love and support to teen services?


Courtney (Missouri River Regional Library) says:
I’m so glad I’m not the only person who wonders about this. This is a battle I’ve been fighting for years and I wish I had answers.  Teen Services is the least funded, least supported and least staffed area in our library.  Heck, we only staff the Teen Zone after 2pm on weekdays.  There certainly aren’t any other public desks that are closed for large chunks of the day (in our library, anyway).  We have the smallest space, the smallest collection, the smallest budget, the smallest staff. Sometimes it really depresses me.

For the record, Teen Services is part of Adult Services at our library.  We have a separate Teen Zone with two part-time clerks and I offer anywhere from 6-12 programs a month (usually by myself).  I should count myself lucky though, there aren’t a whole lot of libraries in our state that have separate teen departments.  It’s mostly in the larger cities that my peers work. As far as I know, I’m the only person who specializes in Teen Services in a 100 mile radius.  Our library didn’t have to create this department, but they did and they did it over a decade ago when Teen-only departments were just starting to become a thing.  When I stop to think about it in those terms, we actually do get a fair amount of support, particularly for a relatively rural library system. 

The hard part is the “hearts and minds” of the staff, admin and board members.  Most of them have little to no background in working with teens, which means they may not understand why it’s so important for us to do what we do.  Everyone likes the idea of kids and teens using the library, but most are completely unprepared for what that can mean, especially for teens.  Those of us who work with teens regularly take it for granted that that teens have very unique developmental needs.  I think one of the more important things we as advocates can do is to educate our colleagues, managers and boards as to why it’s important to be serving teens and why those services look different than services to other age groups. 

It will continue to be an uphill battle as more teens can often mean more noise and can be perceived as more troublesome than younger kids and adults (although I would personally rather spend time with my teens than the adults in our computer center any day of the week).  Even the best-behaved teens can be intimidating in large numbers, but it’s part of our job to help our peers and superiors to understand why teens are the way they are and that they’re not nearly as scary as they can be made out to be.  Changing attitudes of our managers/admin/peers may require those people to actually spend some time with teens, either in a program or in the library’s teen space.  Maybe we need to have our teens speaking to our boards of directors about all the great things the library has done for them.  Maybe we need to have the teens take on a larger role in library planning ( a teen library board member?  why not?).  There are a lot of angles we can approach this from, but it’s going to take a lot of work and cooperation.  Good thing Teen Librarians are used to fighting the good fight.

Jake (Boone County Public Library) says:
Library programming is always going to be about numbers and how much bang they get for their buck. If they can have 100 young ones out for aFrozen themed party that costs them $100, or they can have a teen program where they will be lucky if they have 15-20 for the same amount, they’re going to choose the first option 100 times out of 100. Do what you can with what you have, and constantly be advocating for your teens in any way you can (A good place to start would be the Development Assets). If you’re feeling like a rowboat on the ocean (which is to say; lost at sea), find some other teen librarians in your area and start regularly meeting. There’s a strange legitimacy that can come from banding together and having someone else who is going through similar misery at times. If you’re having trouble finding a local group to get together with, you could always get involved withYALSA (The young adult arm of the American Library Assocation).

Jenni (South San Francisco Public Library) says:
I absolutely agree – teen services seems to be the red-headed stepchild of the library world. My library has several adult services librarians and two children’s librarians, plus several staff people who work in each department, but there isn’t a dedicated teen person.  Because my title is “youth services librarian,” I see myself as serving the 0-18 community, which includes our teens. I make sure to dedicate time to developing our teen collection, and I am making a point to work with one of our adult services librarians to develop programming and outreach for teens.  I think spending our time and effort to get teens to come to the library will help administration/management to see that teens are interested in our programs, and if we can bring statistics (don’t we librarians love our numbers!) to them and speak to the number of teens being served, then the administration will begin to see that this, too, is an important segment of the population.  Teens may not be voting or paying taxes to fund our libraries, but in a few years they’ll be the “new adults” who are, and it’s important for our libraries to provide services to our entire community, regardless of age.

Natalie (Farmingdale Public Library) says:
I was blessed to have support from my administration from the get go. The staff will sometimes complain about the typical teen behavior issues, but by and large, I haven’t come across any issues. Do research on how important teen services are to present to your administration. Emphasize that in a few years, these teens will be able to vote for the library budget. Show what libraries around the country are doing (big and small) for the teens. They may not love it as much as we do, but the important thing is to get them on board with the ideas you have. When I wanted to create a video game collection, I compiled articles of research and created a policy on how we purchase them to present to my Director. It definitely helped.


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