Too Old for Teen Services

I hear the phrase “too old for teen services” all the time. I’ll even admit to thinking a few times myself, but here’s the thing. There’s not a magical age that you cross that suddenly makes you unfit to be a Teen Service Librarian.

Often times, I believe that we fall into this trap of believing that you have to be young to connect to teens. That if you’re younger you’re view as hip and can easily relate to them. After all, those younger librarians were just teens a hop, skip and a jump ago, right? On paper it seems sound, but I’ve know plenty of young librarians who do horribly with teens. And here’s the thing, what other area do we use this logic? Babies? Children? Elderly? Age is never brought up when talking about those areas, so why is it in teen services?

Here are some common things I hear when the “too old” conversation comes up and my arguments:

Teens respond better to someone who’s younger. I think this really sprouts from the fact that teens are difficult, but they’re really not much harder than the other age groups. In fact, I often argue that they’re easier. Teenagers are one of the few groups you can truly straight talk without getting too much attitude. Sure, they push the boundaries, but 9/10 times when I explain things on why something is the way it is, the teens understand and accept it (if it’s fair).  Doesn’t matter if you’re 25 or 55, being honest and transparent with teens will go a very long way with earning and keeping their trust. 

You have to be what they’re into. Yes and no. I mean being able to rant and rave about a show together helps, but just listening goes a long way. You don’t have to be into everything they are. All you need to do is to show an interest. Let them rant and rave at you, ask a few questions, and the teens will be just as happy. I often tell my teens that I have no idea what they’re talking about and you know what their response is? I don’t care, I just want to talk about it. So, don’t worry about if you know all the latest celeb hook-ups or not, at the end of the day all that really matters is listening.

I’m not cool enough. Okay, okay, we all say this, but again teens don’t care. I tell my teens all the time I’m not cool. I own it. And again, that’s okay because you know what I am? I’m myself. Being genuine is so much better than cool any day. Teens know when people are trying too hard. Just don’t do it. Be who you are and the teens will think that’s cool, I promise.  

I’m sure there are thousands of other things that we say, too, but I want to encourage us as a whole not to use the “too old” excuse anymore. I challenge each and every teen services person to say what they really mean.  

This has been a challenge I put to myself as well. I’ll be honest and I often think about how much longer I want to stay in teen services. I wanted to use the “I’m too old” excuse, but I finally forced myself to admit what really had me feeling this way.

Here’s a list of my reasons/thoughts when burnout/needing change first set in:

  • I hate working all nights. I feel like I have no life.
  • I’m running on empty doing so many programs a month.
  • It feel like just when I get a good group, they move on/graduate.
  • I have to read so much on my own time to keep up/give good RA.
  • I feel like I’m doing the job of 3 people on my own.
  • Being a make-shift therapist is hard.
  • I need a different challenge/I want change.

After making this list, I was lucky enough that I had an awesome supervisor that helped with some of it. For example, she thought it was silly for me to be working all nights and other than my normal night a week or programming nights I work days. Even for programming, other staff members have helped out so I do 5 programs a month instead of 8+.

Has this helped everything? Of course not. Teen Services is hard. I truly believe it’s one of the few departments that has very little flexibility for a librarian, especially if you’re the only one. There is no one else to trade off duties with, which is why I often think burnout happens frequently and hard among us. BUT that’s totally a post for another day.

I hope I’ve swayed some minds on the “too old for teen services” mind-set. In my heart, I truly believe that age has nothing to do with being able to work and connect with teens. However, let me know what you think as well! I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter.


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