Developing your Personal Teen Services Model

This year, my library is working on a new strategic plan.  For those unfamiliar with the process, this includes surveying the public and staff, identifying a few key areas for improvement, and developing focused goals to address over the next few years.  One of the focus areas that my library has identified, is teen services. YAY! While this excites me and gets me chomping at the bit for the chance to really make some changes and start pulling together an awesome action plan, it’s also made me extremely aware of the fact that one of my services to teens is in the education of other adults about teens. Perhaps even starting with members of my own library’s staff.

For new teen librarians, and even for those of us who’ve been in the field for a while, this is a daunting task,  Trying to convince or explain to other adults what teens need and deserve, especially in the face of teen behavior, is difficult to say the least. I’ve had to develop a tough skin and prepare my own elevator pitch for what I believe about teen services.  If you’re really interested in making a difference in the lives of your library’s teens, here are a few tips I’d suggest for helping to build your service model:

  • ATTEND young adult and teen focused workshops whenever possible.  
    • Even if your position doesn’t have a professional development budget for this, keep an eye out for free webinars and workshops.  YALSA has a good core group of free on-demand webinars on their site.
    • Also, think outside of the library field.  Various mentoring groups and programs have trainings and education materials as well!
  • JOIN a special interest group for teen librarians.  
    • I’m lucky in that Illinois has a couple of different teen-focused networking groups for library professionals.  These groups provide the opportunity to share resources, ideas, and get advice on some of the unique hurdles we face in service this age group.  Check your state’s library association, or ask around.  If you can’t find one near you, consider starting one yourself!  Online groups, such as ours are great resources also.
  • LISTEN to the teens themselves, and also the adults who misunderstand them.
    • It’s easy to cringe at some of the things adults say about (and sometimes directly to) teens, but really listening to the comments and dissecting what’s really being asked for, will help you find a focus.  
    • For instance, patrons begin complaining about the number of teens congregating in the front of the building or in the doorway of the library.  Could it be that the front of the building is where teens wait for parents? Is it the best place for cell phone reception or charging in the building?    
  • COLLECT research to support your goals and data to back you up.  My favorite resources are listed below.  I also take photos of every program, jot down responses from teens themselves where possible, and take note of any positive reactions from adults.  These little program snapshots come in handy when you’re working to give a face to the data.
    • Presenting at conferences and workshops may be intimidating, but it’s important that you share what you learn with other teen advocates so that we can continue to build this dynamic network.  Also, professionally speaking, doing presentations and workshops helps to develop your credibility when speaking with your library administration, board, and community.
    • There will always be some nuts that are harder to crack, and you may hit some walls.  Perhaps the pushback from adult patrons is moving your library to make decisions about teens that you don’t agree with.  While adults can advocate for themselves, your teens need you to stand their ground for them in the places where they can’t be.   For some libraries, perhaps you can actually prepare and invite teens to speak to the library board for themselves.  In either case, trust that you know what you’re talking about, and remind yourself that they need you to speak up and stand firm.

Remember, no two teen advocates are the same, and that is awesome because no two teens are the same either.   For every teen that enters your doors, crosses your path, or becomes the topic of your library’s board meetings, your unique perspective on their needs, combined with the studies, research, and evidence-based materials that are constantly being released, acts as a shield for them.  With a clear focus in hand, and a repertoire of responses for common misunderstandings about teens, YOU have the power to change people’s perspectives on teens, and to help cultivate a brighter future for and with them.  

Are you doing some amazing advocacy work for your teens?  Have a great elevator pitch for your teen service model? Tell us about it in the comments.


My Favorite Resources:

Young Adults Deserve the Best: YALSA’s Competencies in Action

Standards for the 21st Century Learner

National Forum on Libraries and Teens

“The Future of Library Services for and with Teens: a Call to Action”

Urban Teens in the Library

The 40 Developmental Assets for Adolescents

What Your Manager Wishes You Knew

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