22nd Century Library Services to Teens

What, did you read that subject correctly? Can it really be true? You are supposed to think about teen library services in the 22nd century when you haven’t yet made it past the first decade of the 21st century? Well, maybe not really 22nd century library services, but if you let yourself think past today, tomorrow, next month, and maybe the next 4 months, it should be easier to prepare yourself and your library for the world of 2010 and 2100.

What is important to think about in preparing yourself and your library for the future of library services to teens? Consider:

  • Customization: Teens are more and more used to being able to set the parameters around how they use programs and services in all environments, including shopping, social networking, entertainment, and research. Libraries that serve teens effectively need to find ways to make physical and virtual programs and services customizable. That means customization in the same way that Facebook (and other social networking sites) provide customizable content. And it means customization in a more traditional sense, for example the ability to use library space for a wide-variety of purposes and needs.
  • Access: OK, access is a word that gets thrown around a lot in libraries, but think about it in terms of the ways in which teens need and want to access programs and services. It means providing teens with the ability to create a widget that guarantees easy connections to research information on a specific topic. It means easily downloading content from the library to a teen’s handheld device. It means teen librarians make themselves available in environments outside of the physical library space – Teen Second Life for example. All of these are examples of access that demonstrates a willingness to go to where teens are instead of requiring teens to come to where the librarian is. That’s key to access in 2007, and will certainly continue to be key in 2010 and beyond.
  • Going Beta: In order to support teens informational, recreational, and developmental needs, librarians have to be able to test things out in beta format. By testing and revising, and by being willing to go beta, teen librarians demonstrate to the community -adults and teens – that the library wants to make sure they’ve come up with the best way to provide service. Beta also demonstrates that feedback on services, before they are finalized, is important. Launching something in beta and saying to teens, let us know what you like and don’t like about this, works to improve service. Instead of talking and testing only among fellow librarians, go beta and find out what really works and doesn’t work from the people who are going to actually use the program or service under development.
  • Nimbleness & Flexibility: While it’s not always possible to get an idea today and make it happen tomorrow, librarians do need to find ways to break through bureaucratic processes in order to give/get teens what they want when they want it. IM, text messaging, VOIP, RSS feeds, downloadable video and audio, and the ability to upload and distribute content make quick and easy access – at least at times – a necessity. Waiting for the perfect solution isn’t a solution. The solution is to act quickly – taking things slowly often means missing the opportunity to actually provide the service needed.

Of course it’s not really possible to figure out what library service will look like in 2100. However, if methods of service that support customization, access, beta testing, and nimbleness and flexibility are implemented, libraries have a good chance of being able to serve teens in 2010 (and perhaps even in 2100) in the way teens need and want to be served.

Published by

Linda W Braun

Linda W Braun is a YALSA Past President, the YALSA CE Consultant, and a learning consultant/project management coordinator at LEO: Librarians & Educators Online.