Recently I graded a set of library school student projects. For these projects students needed to talk with teens about the ways teens spend their time, how they find out about the materials and activities in which they are interested, and what they think of libraries – school and public. As I read through the assignments something became very clear. For at least some teens, the library is not much more than a supermarket. It’s a place where you go when you have to “pick something up.” It’s a place that you visit as quickly as possible and only when you have to. Like a supermarket, it’s a place that can be confusing if the signs are not helpful and there isn’t staff that is willing to engage and answer questions in a friendly manner.
While I know that many libraries do not fit this supermarket analogy, I am very aware that there are still many libraries that do. And, even librarians that support the idea that the library should be nothing more than a supermarket for teens – get them in and out as quickly as possible. But, is that really what is the best for teens in the community? Do teens need something more than a supermarket for acquiring leisure reading materials and informational help and support? If the answer to those questions is “yes,” what do we do to transform the library as supermarket framework to the library as a destination place – where it’s OK for teens go to hang out and spend time? What makes a library more than a supermarket for teens? Is it:
- Hours that go beyond the traditional 9 to 5 or 9 to 9 model? Do successful hangout places for teens open early and stay open late?
- Staff across library departments that is welcoming, interested, and willing to build relationships?
- Flexible furniture that is easy to move around and that promotes sitting and talking with friends and peers?
- Space that actually has space for moving around, standing and talking, and even sitting on the floor?
- More than a collection of books and what’s in the collection (books, media, technology, etc.) is of interest to teens 2009/2010 and not just favorites of current or past librarians, staff, parents, etc.?
- A place where teens know their ideas are welcome, supported, and even acted upon?
As I wrote that list of questions, which could of course go on to include lots of other topics and aspects of teen services, I was reminded of a comment a student in the library school class made last week. She said that as she worked on the assignments for the class she was beginning to realize that in some communities the library just didn’t want to provide services to teens. As I think about that comment it seems to me that a perfect example of this lack of desire is providing library teen services in a supermarket model. If we have to have them then lets make the experience as fast – for everyone – as possible.
Don’t let your library services be similar to a supermarket. Reach for something a bit more meaningful within a teen’s life. What if you analyze why some teens spend hours in a Starbucks and work towards replicating that? Or, what about analyzing the hang-out value of an Apple store, a mall, or maybe even a family rec room? What can you replicate for the teens you serve? And, how are you going to make it work?