Black Belt Librarian- Hiya!

A few months ago I went to a Black Belt Librarian training done by Warren Graham and wanted to share some things I learned. For those of you who might not be familiar with this training, no it’s not where you get to learn karate chops (which I totally thought was going to happen and may have been a tad disappointed when I first found out this wasn’t the case) but instead, he teaches “practical day-to-day library security procedures.” For example, he teaches you how you can be in control of any library environment, how not to let a problem patron stress you out, and how to create a safe environment for everyone in the library. Furthermore, what really impressed me about Warren was his take on teens.

So many times you hear how much trouble teenagers are and what a pain in the neck they can be and how no one wants them in the library. Ugh. That’s not what we’re here about! We’re here to be a safe haven for teens and a welcome center. But we do have to face the reality that just like any adult patron; we get the teens that are not having a great day too. And what’s great was that Warren addressed this in his talk. He didn’t put teens down, instead he talked about what every teen wants and that is to be treated just like any other patron.
Now, I’m not going to give you all the tiny details on everything he talked about in his training, because if you’re interested in going you really should, but I do want to share some key points that I found super helpful especially in dealing with teens. Points that I never even thought of to help my teen area be both a safe haven and a welcome center. Points that I hope can help you too.

First, say hello to everyone that comes into your teen area. Everyone. If you’re on the desk, say hi to everyone walks by. When you start your shift and there are already teens in, walk up and say hi. Ask them how they’re doing. Ask them if they need help with anything. Start a mini conversation. Not only does this make you more approachable, but it also lets them be aware that you know they’re there.

Put teens where you can see them or they need to be supervised. When teens know they aren’t being watched is when issues can start to happen. Heck, when anyone knows they aren’t being watched, issues happen! So what to do when someone is being a problem?
1. Approach them with a positive frame of mind. Perhaps they don’t know the library rules. It’s your job to help them learn.
2. Don’t say “I’m so sorry but….” and instead use “Hey, you might not know this” or “I know you didn’t see the sign but…” Saying sorry makes it sound like you don’t agree with the rule.
3. Don’t be a helicopter and hover around waiting for them to comply. Give them space and a few minutes.
4. Always keep a barrier between you and the patron if you can. Whether it’s a table, chair, desk, anything. If you’re close enough to touch them, you’re too close.
5. Finally, never turn your back on someone after you told them they couldn’t do something. You don’t know how they’re going to react. Warren suggested backing away a few steps, look at your watch or a book on the shelf, and then turn when you’re out of reach.
6. And then after, reflect on the situation. What went right, what went wrong, and how can you improve for the next time.

It’s also really important to look at yourself and how you respond to situations. Be honest about your weak points. Do you react or respond in situations? Are you passive or assertive? Are you logical or emotional? Introverted or extroverted? Do you like people? Do you like your job?

As public librarians, we deal with all sorts of different people on any given day. Knowing the right skills that work best for you to keep not only your patrons safe but yourself and staff as well is the most important thing. I encourage you to attend one of Warren’s workshops if you can or get him to come to your library. He’s surprisingly affordable!
So how about you? What have you found that works in your teen space? Are there trainings that you have gone through that you’ve found works well too? Let us know in the comments!

For more information on Warren Graham, visit his website at

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