This is a collaborative blog post written by a protege and mentor in YALSA’s mentoring program. Jennifer is the protege and Linda is the mentor. We’ve been working together over the past several months talking about how to effectively gain support for teen services and how to work with administration to let them know all about the great activities and work being done by teen librarians. As our conversations developed we realized that what we were talking about made for a great blog post, or series of blog posts. Our first post is on how to gain support from administration for teen projects.
Jennifer Gets Things Started
When I get a chance to request support (professional development funding, support in expanding programming across the system, etc.), I know I need to make my case clearly and concisely. Often, I find the best way of doing that is connecting my goals with the ‘big picture’ goals on which administration focuses their work.
Highlighting community collaborations is one tactic that works for me. Sure, admin might be impressed that your Teen Art Club is well-attended. But they’ll be even more impressed if your Teen Art Club is connecting with the teens at the neighborhood recreation center, gaining support from a local gallery or museum, and being promoted by educators. Demonstrating that YA services help connect the library with other community organizations gets straight to the big picture that admin works toward on a daily basis.
Another reason for administration to get excited about teen services: library advocacy.
If you’re collaborating with other community agencies and organizations, making connections and networking with educators, you’re also establishing the library as a cornerstone of the community and demonstrating its relevance and value. Getting the public excited about your organization’s teen services is a fantastic way to advocate for your library, and for libraries in general. If you can prove to your administrative team that selling quality teen services to the community highlights the library as a neighborhood destination, and drives the organization toward its larger vision (as a cultural center, a learning hotspot, whatever the goal may be), everyone wins—teen services, admin, and the public.
Finally, it all comes down to serving teens and instilling a love of information and learning into their lives, which is something everyone in the library should care about. Working with administration to sell great teen services isn’t difficult as long as everyone’s goals are being met and you know how to speak to your administrative team’s needs. The bottom line is that bringing teens into the library, and engaging them with great services, makes the library a better organization—and administration will happily support that.
I love Jennifer’s approach for gaining administrative support for library teen services. I think this goes a long way to gaining the support needed. One thing that I see teen librarians struggle with is working with administration when there is a problem that needs to be solved. For example, maybe a teen services staff member notices that other staff members are not providing high quality service to teens. I’ve seen that in some instances teen services staff approach administrators with that problem, bad customer service to teens by some staff members, but nothing more. A teen librarian might walk into an administrator’s office and say, “Help, my colleagues are being rude to teens.” But, not add, “This is why this is a problem and this is what I think we should do about it.” It’s the why and the solution that is going to be most important to administrators. A teen librarian that’s prepared to talk about causes and solutions will be much more successful at making change in the library. That means a teen librarian has to do research before approaching an administrator about a problem or idea. It’s important to have facts and specific details in hand about how to create or improve a teen program or service.
It’s true however, that even if a teen librarian approaches an administrator with a strong why and solution, that the change needed (or the new program or service desired) won’t always be moved forward. That’s why it’s important to be flexible and think about ways in which to revise a plan or solution and work with administration on others way for making something happen. If a teen staff member says to an administrator, “Over the holidays many of the teens that use the library received ereaders and now we are being asked over and over again for digital content by our teen users. I think this means that we have to start collecting more econtent for teens and this is my idea on how to do that.” And, the administrator says, “Sorry, that’s not going to work.” It’s important not to immediately give up. If the idea is something that is important to high-quality teen services, then keep thinking about the idea and see if it’s possible to come up with another way of gaining the support needed. Do some more research, think about why the idea was turned down, go back with a revised or different solution.
Of course it’s not a good idea to keep going back with revised or different solutions. So, be smart about when the battle might be lost. Don’t give up easily but be ready to give up sometimes, at least until another opportunity for pursuit arises. One thing that might help is to talk to co-workers about the ideas and gain their support. If the library administration sees that other library staff are supportive and also agree with what’s being proposed, the administration might be more willing to try out a new idea. Think too about presenting the idea as something that can be tested. Perhaps it’s possible to say, “Lets test buying more digital content for the next two months, see how well it circulates, and then re-assess our plans.” Let administrators know that their support doesn’t have to be permanent and that it’s always possible to assess in order to make changes and move forward.
What do YALSA Blog readers have to say about this topic? Post your thoughts and ideas in the comments section of this post.