In February I wrote a YALSA blog post about how, during tough economic times, opportunities arise for trying out new ways of providing services to, and connecting with, teens. What if every library took to heart the idea that economic challenges are an opportunity to improve service and take chances? What if teen librarians started to say, “OK, lets start thinking completely differently – or at least a little bit differently – about what we do and how we do it? What if, as we struggle to make ends meet, we don’t just try to maintain but we try to rethink? What if, we don’t think small but actually think big?” It sounds risky, doesn’t it? But, maybe it’s the perfect time to be risky. Take a chance, walk with me on the edge for a few minutes:
- When facing a problem in teen services, a key technique in talking with administrators and community members about the problem, is to focus on a solution as opposed to the actual difficulty faced. For example, say that there’s been a decline in teen attendance at library programs and as the teen librarian you want to change that. It’s better not to go to an administrator and say, “Oh no, what are we to do, teens aren’t coming to our programs anymore?” Instead you should walk into the administrator’s office and say, “Teens aren’t coming to our programs anymore and here is how I plan to change that.”
Imagine then that you’ve been trying to gain support from the administration to provide programming virtually via social networks. So far you haven’t been successful in gaining the support needed. Suppose that you use the economy as an opportunity to start this type of programming and you walk into the administrator’s office with a proposal that demonstrates that by providing virtual programming your attendance figures will rise, and, as another benefit, you will spend less money on programming because you won’t need to purchase refreshments, print materials for distribution at the program, and so on. What if you even brought data that demonstrates that virtual programming leads to more on-site visits by teens? Would it be worth taking the risk of speaking up for going virtual with your programs if you are able to prove to the administration that the change in service allows you to serve more teens for less money?
- Perhaps you’ve been trying for a long time to gain support from fellow staff members for teen services. The administration is behind you and the teens that you serve. But, your colleagues, not so much. You’ve been afraid to stand up for the teens with your colleagues because you don’t want to create an uncomfortable workplace environment. Now is the time to risk discomfort with your peers and stand up for the teens that you serve.
Why? Because you can show that teens can help the library to spend its money wisely. Teens are also the perfect customer group to provide feedback on programs, materials, collections, and services before they become a reality.
If teens are asked to participate in not just planning of teen services, but planning of all library services, not only will this give the librarians a chance to see teens in a positive light, it will also give teens the chance to help the library think beyond today and into the future. Don’t forget that teens are also helpful in getting the word out about the library. Teens can work with all library staff to come up with a word-of-mouth campaign that saves on the advertising budget and gets people involved in what the library has to offer.
- I often hear that in tough economic times librarians are given less opportunities to go outside of their buildings in order to get to teens where they are and/or to collaborate with other community agencies. However, tough economic times provide perfect opportunities for libraries to think outward and not just inward. Why? Because it’s with collaborations and being out in the community that the library will be recognized as an institution that is key to what goes on in the entire community.
Certainly the library needs to be staffed sufficiently to serve those that come into the building. But, what if more people would come into the building if librarians got out of it? What if people in the community were more willing to support the library financially if they saw librarians outside of the building? If staying inside the building is actually making the library less of a known entity in the community, doesn’t that mean that money is being wasted by keeping librarians in instead of out?
Of course getting outside of the building doesn’t necessarily have to happen physically. If it is impossible to be able to meet with staff at other community agencies, teachers, teens, etc. outside the library building, yet you know that those meetings are imperative to keeping the library at the forefront of the community’s mind, web-based technologies are the perfect answer. (And in tough economic times they might be a very inexpensive – or free- way to actively participate with others.) A free or low-cost web conferencing software like DimDim can be used for holding meetings in real-time via the web. Or, you might use Google Docs to work on documents together with colleagues in other community agencies. And, there’s the possibility of using a wiki to plan upcoming events, projects, and so on.
Ultimately, it’s up to teen librarians to make sure that the money spent on services provided is spent wisely and efficiently. That means that at any time – during a tough economy and during a good economy – it’s important to be willing to take risks in order to make good financial decisions. During tough economic times when the focus is very much on smart fiscal management, it’s a time to step up and say, “We need to do this in order to be financially smart.” Take that risk, model that for your library colleagues, and support the teens in the community.