Teen Behavior and Participation in Libraries

LJ Opinion Polls
I am a little delayed reporting on this as I struggle to be diplomatic, but I’m wondering… what kind of message does it send to our profession when Library Journal (Reed Business), publishes an opinion poll focusing on negative teen behavior in libraries?

Online polls about library issues have come under scrutiny before. In February 2005, American Libraries, in a poll via its January 25 issue of AL Direct, “Should ALA Council pass a resolution condemning the Cuban government for its imprisonment of dissident ‘independent librarians?'” was viewed as an “[Intervention] in the business of the Association.”

The great thing about LJ and AL polls is that they do become an opportunity for discussion. A brief discussion on the YALSA-BK listservs had librarians divided on the fairness of the poll. “Our big problems aren’t the teens, it is adults that give us behavior problems at times,” wrote one YA librarian. “I don’t have adults who poke holes in the furniture, shout, shove, and throw things across the room,” contradicted another, generating a lively conversation about patron behavior and serving the underserved.

The poll, although vague, does reflect the negative view of teens held by many adults, patrons AND librarians. The lack of support from administration for librarians working with teens, coupled with the behavior issues and poor attitude from fellow staff, seems to result in burnout. One librarian suggested that “Teen Librarians and Burnout” would be a great research project. There’s money available for research in the field, and I’d say this qualifies as a “Professional Problem,” which is a criteria for the the
Frances Henne / YALSA / VOYA Research Grant
. For more details, please visit the YALSA handbook to see YALSA’s Research Agenda, or consider applying for the Henne. Perhaps a YALSA member needs to create their own poll about behavior of all kinds, from patrons of all ages, and how it is dealt with and perceived by all staff.

A Quick Plug for SUS Trainers
Don’t forget, sometimes when you are making the case for teen services (or just arguing that they are valid and valuable patrons), it helps for the staff to hear it from someone else, even after all you’ve done to become the teen expert in your community. Ask someone at another branch, from another town, or even an SUS trainer to deliver a workshop on specific aspects of teen services. From the YALSA web site: “The subjects … include adolescent development, reading interests, behavioral problems, youth participation, facilities, and computer services for teens. The trainers have been trained to work with adult learners and are experts in the specialized field of young adult services.”

This week’s poll, perhaps in an effort to back peddle, focuses on teen participation, a core of library service to young adults. Teen participation is a terrific solution to teen behavioral issues: give them the opportunity to participate and it allows for relationship building, community building, and a sense of ownership that results in fewer behavior problems. As of noon today, 29.73% of librarians do have Teen Advisory Boards, 35.14% get teen feedback on ideas, and 35.14% do neither. The questions are clumsy – presumably, the purpose OF a Teen Advisory Board is to solicit teen feedback – why ask their opinion if you are not going to follow through?

Perhaps that’s a topic for another post.

~posted by Beth Gallaway

About Beth Gallaway

Beth Gallaway was named a Library Journal Mover & Shaker in 2006 for her work in advocating for videogames in libraries. She is an independent library trainer/consultant specializing in gaming, technology, and youth services, and is a YALSA certified Serving the Underserved (SUS) trainer.
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