Ask an Agent: Advice for New Teen Librarians?

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: Any advice for teen librarians who are just starting? My small rural library hasn’t really had any teen services before, and since I’m the youngest staff member, I’ve been dubbed teen program coordinator. (Go me!) I’m basically building everything from the ground up and I just don’t know where to start!

Doris (Chemung County Library District ) says: 

I hear you. I was in a similar situation! Here’s what helped me: a) Take as many YALSA webinars & ALA webinars as you can on teens!  Especially helpful was the ALA ecourse taught by Jennifer Velasquez.  B) Get the books: Starting from Scratch: Building a Teen Library Program (Sarah Ludwig), and Real World Teen Services (Jennifer Velasquez) were and are still my bibles.   In the meantime: just be friendly, & take a sincere interest in the teens you see in the library. Say Hi, introduce yourself, let them know that you are there for them.  Chat about their interests, what they like to do & why they love the library. Make a survey to get teen feedback re: what they like to do, why they come to the library, what days and times work for them to come to the library, etc.  Build programs, your collection, and services around the teens’ interests and feedback. Get a teen or two or more to help make displays, or create programs.  Build a partnership with the school librarian. He or she can help you connect with your local teens, via advertising any events or surveys you have, suggesting candidates to volunteer or advise you. Finally, you don’t have to do this alone. Isolation can be such a killer. You are finding help from TSU, (join YALSA, if you haven’t already!), and try to find another teen serving person in your library system that you can bounce ideas off of. Remember: with all this: it is OK to go slow, take small steps, and celebrate your successes!

Laura (Wabash Carnegie Public Library) says:

I started at our small library in much the same situation. I tried everything from game nights to book clubs to crafts, to no avail. The only thing that helped was going to them. I went on school visits, I invited a boarding school to come for each program (and made sure we had enough crafts for them to bring as many teens as they wanted). Keep active on social media platforms. Facebook is being left behind in favor of Snapchat and Instagram, so keep that in mind. Keep a regular program schedule. All our programs are on Thursdays. This year, I’ve bumped up our number of programs so that every Thursday night, I have an activity at the library for teenagers. There might not always be a big crowd, but there’s something to do if they show up. Most of all, be approachable. Get to know the teens putting in book requests or holds for materials. Recommend things they might like and invite them to come hang out at a program. A personal invitation works much better than a sign on the door. Be persistent. Sometimes it takes a while, but if you stay excited about what you’re offering, that excitement will be contagious!

Molly (Moore Public Library) says:

Congrats!  I’d recommend reaching out to schools and seeing if you can at least meet with admin or individual teachers (probably English, to start).  Schools can be hugely helpful partners in terms of getting the word out and teens in the door, and that can be especially true in rural areas.

 Samantha (Winslow Public Library) says:

I would say that you should find a way to talk to the teens. Ask them questions when they come in the library about what they like and what they would like to see at the library. The second most important thing would be to get into the schools. I hope you can get some time away from your building to go to the school and meet with the librarians there and even some teachers. They can also give you great advice. Food is also a draw. Good luck!

Valerie (Springfield Greene County Library) says:

Congrats on being the new Teen Program coordinator! It can be daunting starting from scratch. The first thing I would advise is to see if you can do some school visits to your local high school or middle school. Try to connect with the school librarians and see if you can do outreach programming at their school. Let them know that you are starting some new teen programming at your branch and ask if there are ways you can support their students. If you get a visit, you could start with just introducing what your library has to offer for homework help, study areas, books.. etc. If you have a dedicated teen space you can highlight that in your visit. Maybe take a few new titles and do book talks at lunch. Bring the library to the teens in your community! At your visits, you can survey teens and see what they would be interested in attending. Are they into any fandoms (Doctor Who, Anime, Manga), do they want a book club, art club, or just a place in the library to hang out and study?
If you have space you could also set up some passive programming. When I started in teen I did some passive programming on a big white board. Examples: Who is your One True Pairing? If you could recommend any book which one would it be? Share your Fandom Feels! Who would be on your ultimate superhero or villain team?

There are lots of ideas on Pinterest for passive programming and check for ideas on the Teen Services Underground Facebook page. There are tons of helpful librarians that are willing to share ideas and even programming tips to get you started!

Thanks to our volunteer agents for the awesome answers. If you have a question about anything teen services related ask it here! Your question will be featured on the blog with answers from our agent volunteers or TSU team members. If you’d liked to be a volunteer agent, please submit your info here.

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