Ask An Agent: How Do You Make the Teen Area Cool & All Ages Friendly?

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: Our Youth Services area is very open which means the children’s section is right next to the teens. My concern is if I set up a gaming system the teens will have problems sharing with the kids, and parents might get offended at their littles playing more teen oriented games. When you don’t have a sectioned off area for your teens to hang, what should you do to make the teens feel like they have a cool place to hang out while still be all ages friendly?

Jake (Boone County Public Library) says:
I have the same issue at my branch. What I’ve tried to do is create as much of a barrier as possible (using shelves) between where the children will be playing and where the teens might be hanging out. If you have a meeting room, you may want to think of opening it regularly for teens to just come and hang out. Having that completely separate space even if only after school or during times of higher traffic could be a huge boon for your teens and your teen programming. Our teens mostly come and hang out during events, which are held separately in the meeting room where they don’t have to worry about people complaining (as much) about noise, and we don’t have to worry (as much) about children trying to sneak in. So, if you have a meeting room, use it as much as you can whenever you have teens in the building, if you don’t, you can always try to use shelving to create a separation between teens, children, and adults.

Jan (Moline Public Library) says:
My teen area is also right next to the children’s section, and I do after school gaming on early out Wednesdays. I have signs posted which state the gaming is for students in grades 5-12, and I make periodic announcements to that effect as well. I do occasionally get younger children (third or fourth grade) who wander over, but they tend to gravitate toward the Wii while the older kids play the Xbox. I check in every half hour and ask if anyone wants to switch, and if so the next group gets the next half hour. I don’t really have a lot of kids that show up for gaming (usually 10-15) so this hasn’t been as big of an issue as I expected. Also, a lot of kids, especially the younger ones, seem to be content to watch the others play.

Jenni (South San Francisco Public Library) says:
When we want to do special programming with equipment like a gaming system, we hold it in our auditorium instead of in the teen area.  This way we can better monitor who comes in and is using the equipment.  This also means the equipment is not sitting out or unsupervised at any time, which helps us keep it from being damages.  The auditorium isn’t really a “cool place,” but when the teens are in there for a program, it is their place.

Kari (Virginia Beach Public Library) says:
It’s always hard not having a space designated just for teens.  Are you looking to have the game system open to all ages or is it being purchased with the teens in mind?  If it is being purchased for the teens, you could have a sign up that says something like “Teen Gaming Zone” with the specific ages/grades underneath.  This would allow for some self-regulation and would also give parents a visual letting them know that the games may not be appropriate for younger children.  If the space cannot be sectioned off, you may try having something up that states the games in the area are intended for patrons between the ages of 12-18 and may not be suitable for younger children.  This is a way to gear the space more towards the teen demographic without actually setting a limit.

Melissa (Cherry Hill Public Library) says:
Our teen space and materials are right next to our children’s materials, too, so I can relate to your dilemma. If you’re worried about little kids taking over the video game station all morning/afternoon, maybe you could set certain teens-only gaming hours based on the times when teens tend to show up at your library? You could put a sign up near the TV indicating the hours. Then you’ll be able to refer to the sign as policy when/if you have to shoo younger kids away. The little ones might hang around to spectate, but it’ll be easier to manage that with an established policy. Plus your teens will feel pretty boss when the librarian clears the area so they can have some space for themselves.

If you’ve pretty much given up on the whole video game thing, another tactic that can help “teenify” a space is passive programming. Here’s a link to a blog post about passive programming written by the fabulous Christen from the Camden County Library in Voorhees, NJ — I’ve borrowed quite a few ideas from her and I don’t think she’d mind if you did either 🙂

Christie (Teen Services Underground) says:
I’ve done it different ways. I’ve done it Jenni’s way, where we’ve had it in a special programming room instead of the teen area- that way it’s completely separate from the littles and the teens can be themselves and not have to watch their language.
Another way I’ve worked around it is by having after hours programs. Instead of having the program during stated library hours, I’ve held the program during times when the library is closed, and limited it to a set number of teens (the amount that I could handle without going crazy). They would have to register, and only those signed up would be able to attend, but the computers, gaming consoles, and the entire library area would be for teens only. They were some of the most popular programs as it was completely closed save for teens, and once they realized that I was serious about not letting anyone in that wasn’t registered and wasn’t on time, they were meticulous about being early to get their passes.
When I had to have a program in our open area, I made sure that I was there with the program so I could handle any issues. Any games that we played were rated T or under, and all language was curbed and teens reminded that language had to be cleaner than when we were in a separate room. I also made sure that I could explain to parents what we were doing, and what the age limits to the program were as well, so that if little brother or sister wanted to watch, they were more than welcome, but they wouldn’t be able to play. As long as I was there, it helped eased any tension or issues between the ages or parents who wanted to make sure that “everyone” got a fair turn.


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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