I’ve been thinking a lot lately about transparency in teen services. Partly I’ve been thinking about it because I’m preparing for a YALSA Institute on advocacy and teen services. In my preparations it’s become more and more clear that without being transparent about what teen librarians do every day in order to serve teens effectively, it’s not possible to advocate for the value of teen services.
For example: If items are purchased for a teen collection and the teen librarian is a bit uncomfortable about how adults in the community will react to the items, then sometimes a teen librarian will hide the items away on the shelves, not displaying them or mentioning them to colleagues, administration or adults in the community, but hoping that teens with an interest will find them. Of course it’s good that the librarian is making the materials available to teens, but just as important is speaking up and stating why those materials are necessary to the teen collection. Without that second piece, the speaking up, it’s not really appropriate to expect community members to understand what teen librarians are working to achieve with a teen collection. The only way to gain that understanding is through transparency in collection development.
It might be difficult to speak up about materials when there is a fear of controvery, but think about it with the idea of transparency in mind. The speaking up doesn’t happen just when the item is added, it should start way before that with conversations with colleagues, administrators, parents, teachers and community members about the purpose of the teen collection. These discussions should highlight how items are selected for the teen collection and note materials that may be controversial and materials that may not be controversial and why they are added to the collection. If these discussions take place regularly, then community members gain insight into the process the teen librarian uses to select materials. Community members begin to understand that the teen librarian isn’t simply purchasing materials on a whim, but really putting thought into what materials are most needed for a collection. They learn why even materials that might make some adults nervous, are important to include in the collection. Transparency can lead to understanding and acceptance of what the teen librarian is doing in order to serve teens in the community.
Transparency is required not just to help in understanding related to collections, it’s required in order to help community members better understand the role of the library and library teen services. I’ve been thinking about this particularly in relation to comments made recently on the Buzz Out Loud podcast about libraries. The comments questioned why libraries are still needed in a world of digital content and the web. I’d say those comments are a perfect example of why librarians need to be transparent about what they do and what they provide. So often teen librarians don’t speak up and let community members know what’s going on with programs and services. It can feel more comfortable not to say too much about a program for teens on video games, or one that integrates social media, because if it just takes place without too much fanfare, then it’s likely pushback from community members, or colleagues, or administration will not occur
But, I’d suggest that being transparent about those programs that someone in the library or the community might have concerns about is the only way to be truly successful. As with the collection, if the teen librarian speaks up about not just one program or service, but speaks up overall about what she is trying to do for teens, and why she is trying to do it, over time adults in the community will understand the big picture and provide support needed. Of course being transparent means it might take time to make something happen. It means taking risks because at least at first some people might not be accepting or willing to listen. But, over time, the transparency is bound to have a positive effect. And, people like Brian Cooley at C|Net will better understand why the library has an important role to play in the community, even in the digital age.
In an effort at full disclosure, I have been known to be less than transparent when working in teen services. I’ve purchased materials that I thought (I didn’t know for sure) might stir up some controversy and as a result didn’t highlight them as much as I should have. I’ve built programs and services without speaking up about them because I thought that some people might question what I was doing and I simply wanted to get to do the programs and provide the services. I shouldn’t have behaved or acted that way. Instead, I should have known that if what I was doing with and for teens in the community was being done to provide teens the best service possible, then I could stand up for those things and let others know why I was doing them. By hiding materials, or programs, or collaborations I wasn’t being fair to the teens, the library, or the community. How could I expect anyone to understand why I did what I did if I didn’t speak up about it?
Now is the time to be transparent. It might be hard, but if you commit to work in a transparent manner in order to advocate and provide great services to teens, over time I bet you’ll find that you gain more support for what you do then if you hide what you do away and hope that nobody notices.