Define Teen Services: Innovation, Risk, Change, Relationships, Passion

Last week I had the chance to attend meetings of the Hennepin County Library Media Mashup project. Media Mashup is an IMLS funded project that looks at how innovation and change happens in libraries. The way that’s being investigated is through the use of Scratch software with teens in libraries in Hennepin County and around the country. Last week’s meetings were inspiring and I left with several words bouncing around my head:

  • Innovation – The Media Mashup project is very much focused on how innovation happens in libraries. It’s very clear from the project that there are barriers to innovation in libraries. However, that doesn’t mean innovation can’t happen and that’s demonstrated by the work of librarians around the country working with Scratch in order to help teens learn about technology and gain media and information literacy skills. When put to the challenge, librarians in the project are finding innovative ways to make the technology work – for example buying laptops so that there are computers in the library that can have Scratch on them. Librarians working with teens need to be innovative in order to breakdown barriers to successful service. Innovating may mean speaking up for what teens need. Which can be difficult. But, if it doesn’t happen are teens being well served?
  • Risk – Librarians serving all different populations often find technology a risky proposition. As a part of the Media Mashup project teen librarians need to take the risk of learning a new software program – Scratch. They then need to take the risk of teaching teens how to use the software. And they need to be willing to teach the software without perhaps knowing everything there is to know about the program. But, taking this risk gives the librarians a great opportunity to mentor and support teens in their own development. A librarian who can take the risk of saying, “I’m not sure how that works but I can help you figure it out” is a librarian that will be successful with teens.
  • Collaboration – The Media Mashup project centers on a strong collaboration between the Hennepin County Library and the Science Museum of Minnesota. These two agencies have worked together for a few years and it is clear that the relationship works. The Hennepin County Library and the Science Museum of Minnesota each get something out of the relationship. For one thing they get access to the skills and talents of each other. They get the ability to connect with teens in a variety of settings. And, they get the chance to be a part of a larger community. For teen librarians these types of collaborations can be key in guaranteeing success and making sure that teen services are respected both within the library and within the community at large. Sometimes these collaborations can seem like more work than they are worth, but if the time is invested the worth ends up being much more than the work.
  • Change – Change in libraries is hard and as I listened to the discussions at last week’s Media Mashup sessions, it was clear that some libraries are better at change than others and that some librarians are better at change than others. Listening to the discussions I was reminded of a recent experience I had in my role as YALSA President. As YALSA President I get the chance to participate in radio, TV, and newspaper interviews about teens, libraries, and the Association. In a recent radio interview I was first asked about whether or not I liked teens. Of course my answer was “yes.” Just after that I was asked if I liked change. And, again my answer was, “yes.” For the first time however, I put those two questions together and realized that they support each other very well. A librarian working with teens has to, of course, like working with the age group. But, it’s also true that because teens are filled with moments of change within themselves, and because the culture that surrounds the age group is always changing, a librarian working with adolescents has to also embrace enthusiastically that things don’t always stay the same.
  • Relationships – During the evening portion of the meeting, Teen Librarian Cynthia Matthias and high school sophomore, Mary, a member of Cynthia’s Tech Squad, joined the adults for pizza and conversation. (The Teen Tech Squad Program brings teens together to teach tech to others. Mary works with younger children to teach them how to use Scratch.) Mary showed the adults in the room what she had created with Scratch and talked about what it was like to be a part of the Teen Tech Squad, what she learned from the experience, and what skills she got from being a part of the library program. As Mary, Cynthia, and Keith Braafladt (of the Science Museum of Minnesota) talked, one thing that was very clear was that Mary had very positive relationships with Cynthia and Keith. There was a comfort level and respect between the three that was impressive. It was also a great demonstration of how, through positive relationships with adults, teens can lead and succeed.
  • Passion – Jennifer Nelson, Hennepin’s Media Mashup Project Manager, mentioned that one of the findings she uncovered as a part of the project is that librarians that are passionate about teens and/or a particular project garner success. George Needham, OCLC Vice President, Global Councils, responded to the discussion about passion by noting that the 2008 OCLC report – From Awareness to Funding: A Study of Library Support in America found that community members notice and appreciate librarians that demonstrate a passion for their work. The report states, “Passionate librarians’ who are involved in the community make a difference.” That makes so much sense. Think about the librarians that you know. Isn’t it true that those that get excited by what they are doing emote that excitement to colleagues, peers, and teens? Isn’t that what we want in those that work in libraries in general and with teens specifically?

I left these meetings thinking that these are the words that make for successful library teen services. Do others have thoughts about the terms and phrases they would use when describing successful teen services? I’d love to hear them. You might find some inspiration in Buffy Hamilton’s recent posts on the Unquiet Librarian blog. (Slidehshare, Guest post by Beth Friese, and teen musings)

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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