Ask an Agent: Convincing Admin that a Teen Space is Needed

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Question: At my small city public library, we are contemplating building a designated teen space. Any advice or tips on what to do or NOT do when presenting to stakeholders who say: but there aren’t any teens in the library? Why do we need a space? My teen program attendance isn’t overwhelming, steady but small. I have a small, dedicated TAG group. I fear that using anecdotal stories about teens loving the library will not be enough to convince the numbers-oriented folks. (Our circ data shows that one quarter of our active users are teens, which is great, but they don’t actually HANG OUT at the library much) Which could change with an addition of a space for them). I’ve got YALSA info on the importance of teens & teen spaces in libraries, I’ve taken some webinars on teen space design & fundraising. What real life tips do you colleagues have?

 Nikki (Cleveland Bradley County Public Library) says:

If you build it, they will come. Right? I use the “third space” argument – that teens need a safe place that isn’t home and isn’t school and a positive relationship with an adult who isn’t their parent or their teacher. They have specific developmental needs in terms of socialization and I know that some people don’t buy that as a legitimate thing – I’ve heard things along the lines of “All they do is hang out in there and play video games” (fighting words, you guys) even from other staff – but the need for downtime is huge. Beyond that, teens are more likely to use the library if they see that the library cares enough about them to designate a space. I love public libraries and I love my job, but we have to acknowledge that being leered at by the sketchy dude who tries to sleep in the periodicals room while doing one’s homework isn’t fun. Safety is a huge concern. A space that is teen-owned and intended specifically for them goes a long way in that area too. Is it possible for your TAG people to speak directly to the decision makers? If you have some members who are comfortable with speaking, empower them to advocate for themselves!

Whenever I have to defend teen anything, the future community stakeholder argument generally does the trick. Obviously, paradigms for library services are changing from the building full of books model and we are forced to be more aggressive about marketing our programs and services. A teen space is a chance to connect with the next group of voters before they become the adults who will make decisions about the future of your library. We want to encourage people to continue to use the library as a physical space and not just abandon us forever for Overdrive and databases, right? So we have to give them that space.

On a practical note, we did a big renovation in 2009 and we got a teen space. I was in circulation at the time so I inherited my space and the things I wish I had been asked/known back then:

  • More outlets. So many outlets. All the outlets. All of them will have seven things to plug in.
  • As enclosed as possible for noise. We used to have a piddly  half wall between us and REFERENCE. Yes, the architects felt teens should be next door to the Law Library collection. Ultimately, I was able to get enough money and support from our board and our Friends group to give us a fully glass enclosure and can now shut doors during programming, but think about a noise buffer. The glass part is also important because people can see in and out for safety.
  • Make the furniture easy to move around and expect that it will be moved around. Our library is beautiful and I’m grateful for the space but the furniture is kind of heavy and cumbersome. I want the space to be comfortable and inhabited so I will go for more modular options when I have the change to get new furniture (probably about 50 years from now when I am long retired unless this furniture spontaneously catches fire).

Side note: I am perpetually appalled every time this discussion happens. No one ever calls on a children’s librarian to defend the desire to have a designated space for children and their books and programs. Teens are not adults. Their brains aren’t finished. Being taller than children does not make them adults.

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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