My New YA Job

While many of you were at Annual, I was in the process of moving and changing jobs. ‘ I have gone from being a school librarian in a K-9 school, to a YA librarian in a public library. ‘ Over the course of my budding library career I have worked with teens and I have worked in public libraries, but this is the first time I am working with teens in a public library. ‘ Which is a convoluted way of saying theoretically I know what I’m doing, but in practice I am still inexperienced.

I think the acknowledgement of transitions is important in a profession where many of us have several different jobs over the course of our careers. ‘ ‘ This transition has landed me exactly where I want to be. ‘ Aside from an Anime club that plans to start back up again in the fall, YA services here is pretty much a blank slate. I have a lot of freedom, but I don’t have a lot of direction. ‘ It feels good and I think it will prove useful in terms of growing the YA program, but for the moment, I’m not really sure where to begin.

I started writing this post as a list of all the ways in which school libraries and public libraries are different, but for one, you YALSA folks can most likely guess at all of those, while I, having only been at my new job for just under two weeks, am not sure I actually know all of the differences. ‘ I find that I am focusing more on the similarities: books, technology and young people. ‘ These are what I care about and devote my energy towards learning about. ‘ And these are still the heart of my job.

Perhaps I have answered my own question…

In today’s YALSA webinar, Risky Business, Linda Braun talked about taking risks in teen services, and that teen services as a concept is really all about taking risks. Our teens take risks all the time, at school, both academically and socially, by learning skills they’ll need as adults, like learning to drive, by speaking their minds and being themselves. ‘ Growing up is risky. (Or, as Bilbo says, It’s a dangerous business going out your front door). ‘ To be a true advocate for teens and engage in dialogue with them about their risks and their growth is a risk. ‘ One of the main points of Linda’s talk was to ask ourselves what will happen if we don’t take this risk? ‘ Maybe that question applies to some specific aspect of teen services: Do I try out a a circulating collection of video games? Do I buy urban fiction? Do I advocate for unfiltered access to the Internet? Do I talk to teens about topics that might be uncomfortable, like sexual identity? ‘ Ultimately it boils down to this: If we don’t risk, we’re not serving them. ‘ If we don’t risk, we lose them.

And so I answered my own question: You begin with the teens.

My stumbling block for the moment is : How do I break the ice? ‘ It was easier when I was a library teacher (like a gym teacher or a music teacher), you’re there and the kids are there and it’s library time, so you just do it. ‘ In the summer a lot of teens have jobs, some are on vacation, some lack the transportation options they might have during the school year (parents in tune to their schedules or merely a crisp fall day that inspires a walk to the library as opposed to summertime heat and humidity, which may inspire staying home with the AC cranked up). I haven’t been seeing many teens. My colleagues keep telling me to wait for fall.’  When I do see them my shyness prevents me from accosting them and proclaiming: I am your teen librarian! I command you to tell me how to make the library more awesome!

Though, in all seriousness, maybe I should just go over and say hi.

What do you think?

  • How do you break the ice?
  • How do you recruit ‘ teens for a Teen Advisory Group?
  • What kinds of programs work in the summer when teens are not in the library as much?
  • What else do you think I should know?
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6 Comments

  1. There are a lot of different things — but what I want to advocate is the being in the teen area approach. Doing whatever (shelf reading, displays, etc.) but in an open way for casual conversation. Being behind a desk doesn’t work — it’s a physical barrier, plus a place that people think of as “when I need help”. The problem with being on the floor (or in other outreach that will break the ice, such as school or club visits) is that often libraries work on the traditional model of “desk time” being needed a certain number of hours per day and that being the only customer point of contact that has value. So, per library policy a librarian is locked to a desk for a certain time period and it’s not the easiest place to get to know your teens.

  2. I totally second what Liz says about being in the teen area as much as you can. I get a little shy sometimes too, but have had such success with just asking if they’re finding what they need, pointing out a book I loved, that it’s been good positive reinforcement to be as available as possible.

    As far as summer programming goes, I live in a place where outdoor recreation is pretty much paramount , so partnering with businesses that can offer “how-to” programs on things like paddleboarding, disc golf, and fly-fishing are proving to be very successful.

  3. Congrats on the new gig! I have to echo was Liz said- get out on the floor. But also, don’t be afraid to smile and say hi to them first. I think that was what worked best for me when I first started. I made an active effort to learn the names of my regulars and made sure that when they came into the library I always smiled and said “Hi Teen, how are you today?”- sure when I first started that they were a little wary, but I wore them down 🙂 As long as you are approachable and friendly, they’ll warm up to you quick enough. If you find yourself forced to be at a desk, put fun eye catching things out for them to play with- puzzles, games, interesting creatures- something that will draw them over to look and then talk to you. I also made a lot of headway with the kids who are big readers by talking about books with them, finding out what they like and offering some options to them, and making it clear that I read the books in the teen area like they do- I’ve got a following of kids now who come see me every time they come in now to find out what I’ve read recently and have I read anything I think they’d like.

    I think you do have to take risks- both in terms of the collections and services you provide but also in the subjects that you talk about with teens. I have a lot of kids who come into the library just to talk to me because they need someone to talk to – about some pretty serious issues in their lives. Is it risky for me to talk to them- absolutely- but if I don’t, I think that some of these kids would not have anyone to talk to about what is bothering them. I always try to encourage them to speak with their “parental units” and I have the phone numbers of a variety of service organizations readily available for me to give to them if they need more help than I can provide (and honestly, I provide very little advice other than have you talked to parent, school counselor, etc- I mostly ask questions to get them thinking about the situation differently). Most of the time though, they really are just looking for someone to actively listen to them, you do not have to provide advice but showing an interest in them and what is bothering them can make a big difference.

    Once you’ve got that one kid, they’ll bring a friend, who brings a friend, who brings a friend…. so start small. Be friendly, but set your boundaries and stick to them because they will test you. It is tough to walk that line between friendly adult and adult friend and you’ll get a few kids who will not understand the difference since it is not a school environment.

  4. Again, I agree with what everyone else said about being in the teen department. If I’m in my office or at the desk that’s actually out in the open in the teen space, every time I see a teen come into the space, I make sure I say hi and let them know that I’m the teen librarian and to let me know if they need anything. I’ve found that most of them won’t approach me on their own, but by me making the first contact with them and letting them know I’m there, they’re more willing to ask for help. I also use small things tocompliment them or make small talk about (i.e.-I have pink hair, so when I see a teen with colored hair, I mention how cool their hair color is) Also, with the summer reading program going on, I ask every teen that comes to the library if they know about the SRP-gives me something short to promote to them and it’s great promotion for events and the SRP. I know when I was a teen I was painfully shy and it always meant a lot to have someone notice and say something to me.

    As for my teen library council, that starts with word of mouth. My teen council is all about reading and they love reading ARCs that I get from ALA. So if I talk to a teen who is a big reader or see a teen with a big stack of books, I let them know about the library council. From there it seems to spread by word of mouth, as do many of programs.

    Also, try to promote programs through your area schools. My local middle school will do annoucements about library programs and that’s helped me get great turnouts at events.

  5. I’d like to add that you should work with the library system you’re in to make some kind of online feedback an option through their website. I’m terrified of librarians, but love going to the library. The online services my school and county library systems offer allow me to get what I need/like out of the library while minimizing my actual face time with scary librarians. I also really enjoy using the non-book aspects of the library. During the summer I’d be willing to bet you still have teens coming in to use the internet if they can’t at home, is there something you can do in that area?

    My school has librarians available by IM most of the day, if you’re as a desk perhaps you could be accessible to teens through an IM service?

    Also it often felt like there was a programming gap when it came to teens at my library, if you can find a way to isolate which programs teens might be interested in and target some of the advertising to the teens (in the teen section or otherwise) it might help them not to slip through any cracks, real or imagined.

    I hope that helps!

  6. As somebody who has largely had public library experience, and moved into the school library sphere, I say “Go you!” I think the nature of each area is quite different, but you’ll have plenty of skills from one that will complement the other.

    In terms of ability to engage young people, you’ll be at an advantage. And the kids who DO come to the library will be there because they want to (as opposed to the kids who might be in your school library). However, the biggest challenge will be attracting kids, especially teens.

    I say that the biggest thing that you need to remember to do is to stay connected to the wider community. You can’t wait for kids to come to the library – you need to step OUT of the library and into the community.

    That means:
    – make friends with your local booksellers!
    – visit all of your local schools, and take up opportunities to talk to the kids about the public library. Form partnerships with your schools, and work on shared projects. Take a pile of library cards to your school and join people up!
    – Bribe the kids with cupcakes, or chocolate, or whatever it takes. And make sure you get them to bring a new friend every time. You’ve got a better chance of keeping them coming, if you give them incentives, such as sugar and familiar company.

    Good luck! 🙂

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