Five years ago, I started a new job—Young Adult Library Associate. While I had worked with teens in the past, working in a library setting was new to me. There were so many things to think about: Would the teens like the programs I planned? Where would I advertise my programs? Would the teens even come?
When I arrived at my branch, I was pleasantly surprised! The branch was located directly across from a middle school. When I heard from the staff that we were the hub for many of these teens after school, my mind said “Score!” I was psyched that I would have a built in audience for programs.
To an extent, I was correct. Daily, we can see as many as 30 to 40 teens in our library. While this is a great advantage to us, it can also pose some challenges. However, one must always remember that within every challenge lies an opportunity. By focusing on the possibilities, challenges can seem less daunting.
One of the biggest challenges a library can face when located next to a public middle school is one of competing services. Both the public library and the school library offer students many of the same types of services: book discussions, data bases, extra –curricular activities. While one could see this as a challenge, it is definitely a plus. By working with the school media specialist, we are able to supplement one another and highlight services.
I am fortunate to have developed a wonderful relationship with the middle school media specialist. She works closely with me to advertise all of my upcoming programs. She will display flyers, add information to the school website, and make announcements to keep teens aware of library programs. She also schedules time at the end of the school year for me to come and speak with all of the students about summer reading. In addition, she has brought her classes to the branch for tours. Instead of competition, we strive to collaborate and offer the best services possible.
With teens coming straight to the library after school, we have a built in time to focus on teen services. We offer programs that cater to teen needs and desires. There is a special area designated for teens with chairs, computers, and YA magazines and books. The large number of teens that frequent the library after school offers us the ability to reach out to a demographic of teens that may not otherwise make it to the library. Because we are a safe, public place they come to use our computers and hang out with friends. This allows me to interact with readers and non-readers alike. While we do offer a variety of teen specific programming, many of the teens choose to partake of our computer services over programs. Minecraft and YouTube videos are all the rage among the teens in the afternoon. Many of these teens don’t have computers or internet service at home, so who can blame them for taking advantage of this fantastic service?
One might think that this large influx of teens on the computers in the afternoon could lead to a lack of computers for other patrons. But that is not the case. We have computers that are for teen use, as well as reference computers that cater to the needs of patrons who are focusing on job searching or school work. The public computers are always at full capacity, with teens and adults working side by side on educational or recreational exploits. In addition, the normally serene library setting becomes one of excitement and vibrancy. For adult patrons, this has never been an issue. They recognize that the teens have a right to use the library space, as well. We make it a point to have quiet study space and private study rooms available for those patrons that require a quieter, more contemplative place to work. In addition, staff monitors the noise level and activity of the teens to maintain a positive environment for all patrons.
I am pleased with the atmosphere of our library. We have a large group of teens that partake of our services and a wonderful relationship with the neighboring school. The challenges that we faced being in close proximity have been opportunities in disguise. We have worked together to create a welcoming, wholesome environment for all patrons—teen and adult. I have worked closely with the school to create an open communication that allows us to be proactive in dealing with any issues. The school and the library work together for the good of the teens. I have found a core group of teens that attend programs and promote them to their friends. And even though many of the teens are otherwise engaged on the computers or with friends, I can often recruit teens to attend programs. Each time, I am pleased that I am able to reach someone new and I love their reactions when they realize how cool and fun library programs are. Just remember, a positive attitude leads to positive outcomes.
Hello! My name is Brandy Walton. I am a Young Adult Library Associate in Maryland. I have many passions in life, with books and reading my number one. I do not look at a book as a medium for just entertainment or communication but more so a portal into people’s lives or other worlds. Working with teens allows me to share my passion. With teen programming, I have a means to open doors to new ideas and activities to the teens in my community. With a little thoughtful planning, it is amazing how you can make learning fun! I look forward to bringing my views, thoughts, insight, and experiences to this forum in hopes of stimulating awareness, interest, and overall continuing communication about what we all love. “Books are proof that humans are capable of working magic.” ~ Carl Sagan