Where Do They Go? What Do They Want? How Can We Help?

working during the dayAt The New York Public Library when a teen reaches 18 they are no longer allowed to take part in programs, and spend time in teen spaces, designed specifically for adolescents. These teen spaces are meant to be just for teens as a way for the library to demonstrate support to the age group, and as a way to give teens a place where they can hang-out as comfortably as young children who frequent library children’s rooms.

However, when teens reach 18 at NYPL they sometimes feel at a loss about where to go next, within the library context that is. As a matter of fact, a few years ago I remember a conversation I had with one of these teens. It was the end of the school year and he was headed to college, in New York City, in the fall. He said to me that he was considering telling the librarians at NYPL that while he was going to college he wasn’t yet 18. That way he could continue to hang-out in NYPL’s Teen Central that he’d been going to for several years.

reporting on ideasIn an effort to help continue to serve these young adults, yesterday, a group of 18, 19, and 20 year-olds got together at the Grand Central Branch of The New York Public Library to talk about designing a space in the brand-new branch library for the age group and to discuss what it would take for these young adults to become leaders and facilitators of this branch library’s TAG – Teen Advisory Group. (All of the young adults at this seminar had been active participants in the library’s TAG prior to hitting the “age wall.”)

After lunch the young adults and the Branch Manager talked about designing the space in the library for them. The Branch Manager told the young adults that she wanted them to take the lead in developing plans for the space. She gave them some tips on how to present their ideas to her in a way that would be likely to get a positive reaction. And, she asked what they would like to see in a space for their age group. (The young adults are going to work on a plan and present it to the Branch Manager in mid-July.)

Another part of the day focused on creating agendas for, and facilitating, Teen Advisory Group meetings. These young adults may very well begin leading and facilitating the TAG meetings. This session gave them the chance to consider what that leading and facilitating might mean, and how to prepare for the task.

next paperConversation during this part of the day included talking about how to gain respect from the teens attending a meeting, how to deal with people (teens in the TAG in particular) who might not be easy to deal with, and the kind of language to use when in charge of a TAG meeting. The young adults were energized by this discussion and had some really good ideas about how to make things work. They also openly and honestly talked about their own TAG experiences and what worked and didn’t work when they were a part of the library’s TAG. (During this part of the day, In their efforts to not talk over each other, the young adults actually developed a process on-the-fly for giving everyone a chance to speak, a “Next” paper was created and passed around the room. The person holding the paper was the next one to speak.)

sarah couri and young adults keep talkingIt was clear throughout the day that one of the greatest take-aways for the young adults when it came to the library’s service to them as teens, was the relationships built between each other and the librarians who supported and worked with them. When the Branch Manager asked the group what they wanted to bring, from their teen space years, with them to the new space currently in design, the first answer was relationships. Relationships with the librarians and with their peers.

We do a lot of work in libraries to support teenagers to help them grow into successful adults. But, what happens when they reach 18 and they start a new part of their lives? A life where the focus might be college and/or work. What happens to their library experience then? Do they simply have to give up being able to have a relationship with peers and librarians because they are no longer in the community’s school system? Or, can the library help them to continue to have those relationships?

When YALSA began discussing an Interest Group focused on serving older teens/young adults I actually had no idea that New York Public Library was thinking about this too. When Sarah Couri, teen librarian at the Grand Central Branch, found out about YALSA’s plans for the Interest Group, she contacted me and invited me to yesterday’s seminar. (Sarah planned the seminar with two of her colleagues – Jeremy Czerw and Frank Collerius.) I’m glad I received the invitation and was able to attend.

Are other libraries trying to help teens who they serve so successfully over the years transition to a different kind of library service? What about colleges and universities? Is this a chance to connect with librarians in those institutions? Maybe teen librarians need to talk with adult services staff about this transition. We can’t really drop these young adults into a big hole after they “age-out” of a library’s teen services, can we? What do we do?

About 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.
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4 Comments

  1. This makes me sad I could only be there for a short part of it, thank you for coming and thank you for the write up.

  2. One option would be to continue to break out services & designated physical spaces to special populations (Children, Teens, Young Adults, Senior Adults), but I would think a revitalization of Adult Services in general would be a simple place to start. In Brooklyn, the Bushwick & Greenpoint branches are doing dynamic and interesting programs designed and marketed to 20&30-somethings. Not just piecemeal, but consciously, like an initiative. It always comes back to the staff doesn’t it? Librarians should constantly be thinking about who we aren’t serving, who we are missing and how we can do better. Kudos to Sarah Couri & NYPL for opening this discussion with their Young Adults!

  3. Just a suggestion, I don’t know if this will spike any interest among the YA or maybe even appropriate, but maybe you can add pingpong in your services. It’s pretty addicting once they’ve really gotten into it. It’s interactive and weans them off from computers once in awhile.
    I think it’s great that you’re taking measures to keeping the kids in the library, instead of alienating them away. It’s better for them having fun under a safe environment rather in “who-knows-where”.

  4. I agree with Gretchen – and not just because I was working at the Bushwick branch up until the end of April 🙂

    Isn’t this part of Adult Services? Just as children graduate to YA, shouldn’t YA patrons have services available as they mature to Adults? Adult services librarians serve those 18+, and there programming should reflect that.

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