Connect, Create, Collaborate: The Next Big Thing in Teen Spaces

This weekend YALSA’s YA Literature Symposium takes place in St. Louis. The theme is The Next Big Thing. Last month YALSA’s The Hub blog had a set of great posts on the theme covering everything from e-reading, to science fiction, to why the next big thing isn’t important. This month in the YALSAblog series on Connect, Create, Collaborate we’ll also talk about The Next Big Thing. This week, what’s the next big thing in teen spaces?

There is a lot of conversation these days about libraries and spaces. Hackerspaces. Makerspaces, Learning Commons. And so on. These are all great conversations to have as they get library staff serving teens thinking about what they do to serve the age group successfully. I keep wondering, are we really planning and thinking about the future of library space beyond the activities that go on in that space? Hacking, making, and learning are all really important. It’s great if we can integrate those activities and re-organize space for that now. But, what happens in the not so distant future when:

  • Our digital collections grow and shelves for materials are less and less needed?
  • We replace desktops and laptops for customers/teens with portable devices?
  • There is less of a need for libraries to provide technology as teens, and others, will come into library spaces with their own technology?

Those are just a few things that are on the not so distant horizon. Have you thought about them?

Picture it. You no longer have a traditional library computer lab filled with desktops or laptops or printers. You don’t need it because either a majority of customers come to the library with their own technology or you have setup flexible stations around the library for the same kinds of activities that used to be accomplished in computer labs. When this happens that means there is a lot of space now open in the library. What are you going to do with that space for teens?

Picture it. You have transitioned the library from stacks and stacks of physical non-fiction materials to a primarily digital – app based or e-book download based – collection of materials. The shelves that once housed your non-fiction collection are no longer necessary. There is a lot of space now open where those shelves used to be. What are you going to do with it for teens?

Picture it. The floor space in the library that once housed tables for desktops and/or laptops for teens to use to do a variety of activities is no longer needed. A large portion of the teen population is coming into the library with their own devices. There is a lot of space now open where those pieces of hardware used to be. What are you going to do with it for teens?

Picture it You no longer need formal reference or readers’ advisory desks because all of that type of support and service happens while roaming the teen area with tablets or other devices in hand. There is a lot of space now open where those pieces of furniture used to be. What are you going to do with it for teens?

Of course, some of this can take a few years to come to fruition. But, now is the time to start planning and advocating for the use of the space that will no longer be used as it has been. Perhaps you might:

  • Be able to purchase furniture that is flexible and movable so that tables, chairs, etc. can be moved in and out of the space as needed.
  • Setup your own version of a genius bar where teens staff the space and help library customers with trouble-shooting their technology.
  • Setup a technology bar where teens sit and work with their devices in a comfortable collaborative space.
  • Setup maker and hacker materials and spaces for teens to use to create and hack. (See Candice Mack’s recent post on getting started with library makerspaces.)
  • Create spaces where teens can easily hang out, mess around, and geek out so they can socialize, learn, and create content.
  • Be able to sit with teens to help them in their hanging out, messing around, geeking out. Reference questions, readers’ advisory, informal chatting about topics of interest could take place in flexible and informal spaces where everyone feels comfortable.

This is actually quite exciting. Think of all of the ways you’ll be able to support teens if have space for them to do what they want and need to do in flexible, formal, and informal ways. There are lots of opportunities if you start to consider what’s possible.

Try this, think about a space in your library that you could see changing as a result of the post PC world teens live in. (The post PC world is a world in which PCs are less the norm than mobile devices.) What might change in that space? What would you like to do in that space? How can you make it happen? Perhaps you can be the first in your library to start planning for the next big thing in teen library space. You can have teens help you to think things through. You can also get some guidance in YALSA’s National Teen Space Guidelines.

I’d love to hear your ideas. Post them in the comments and let’s talk about what the next big thing in teen library spaces is going to be.


Empty library image from Flickr user Manchester Library

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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15 Comments

  1. I just can’t seem to picture some of those things happening in my library! My teen patrons don’t have their own devices, and they don’t have long term or reliable access to the internet or computers at home, usually. If I took away their desktop computers they would be devastated! Although, I would love to replace the PCs with something that takes up less space, like locked laptops or tablets. These would provide access to everything the teens use library technology for and would free up space that I would love to use to create a simple hangout space for them. Right now my teens don’t have anywhere in the library to just sit down and be teens together; they always end up getting too loud and disturbing the other patrons! So if there were a way to get rid of PCs while still providing them constant, reliable, and free technology/internet access I am all about that!

  2. Eden, I’m with you!

    While I think that all of this information is definitely valid, and all libraries might be moving to these adjusted formats one day, I still think that we need to talk about how to createTeen Spaces in public libraries. There are plenty of public libraries that don’t have a Teen Space – they have some stacks for their Children’s and YA books, but no designated areas for children and teens to have their own space. I think we, as youth services librarians, need to be advocating for Teen Spaces with these multimedia platforms in mind.

    With the fate of school media specialists in constant flux (I work in a high school in Illinois) there has to be a space for teens to learn the multimedia tools needed to be able to keep up with the ever changing technology community. There needs to be a place where teens can learn how to use social media responsibly, and not be told that it’s “bad” and blocked when they try to access their facebook account on a library computer.

    The public library is the perfect place to teach these kinds of programs, and as this article is just the catalyst needed to get us strategizing for our next grant or program proposal.

  3. Eden and Lindsay, thanks for the comments. A few follow-ups for this discussion:
    * If we think three years in the future, can we expect more teens to have their own devices. With the BYOD movement taking place in schools, device costs coming down, and such is it really that far off that we hit a tipping point where more devices come into libraries than we see today?
    * I don’t think this is an either or – teach teens to use tools successfully or change space in the way I suggest. I would actually suggest that if we do change spaces in the ways I mention, than we have more opportunities to provide the support needed for learning how to use tech tools successfully.
    * I totally agree that we need to get more support for teen space in public libraries. Couldn’t it be that if we start talking about re-envisioning the space to integrate new ways of using libraries that we actually have the chance to advocate for just that? If we focus just on space in the traditional sense we might not be able to get our message out as successfully.
    * If you haven’t seen the YALSA Space Guidelines I think they will provide you with good ideas on transitioning space and advocating for space. Check them out – http://www.ala.org/yalsa/guidelines/teenspaces

    Great conversation, would love to hear follow-up and other people’s thoughts.

  4. I also think it’s really important not to to get overwhelmed by great (but seemingly infeasible for your space) ideas a resources, and take a step back to think about what steps you can take. I might not feel like I have the sway in my building to rip out furniture and turn a computer lab into a hackerspace, but learning about schools where such spaces are a reality has inspired me to rethink my own space and experiment more with what I do have. Could I invite the robotics team to demo their robot in the library? Could I scrounge for more power strips and create an informal charging station?

  5. Linda –

    Now that I’ve just experienced my first YALSA Lit. Symposium, I feel like my brain has expanded!

    I really like your first question, I think if we look 3 years in the future, I think we’ll see more middle class to upper class students and teen patrons with devices, but I do think the Digital Divide will remain an issue. While we might be able to find funding for devices in underprivileged areas, I still don’t see those devices becoming personal – they will probably circulate from a library.
    I do think that spaces like Youmedia Chicago are the answer for some of our disadvantaged youth to have access to technology, and with the abundance of funding being issued to programs similar to Youmedia, I think there is a definite bright spot in the future for technology and teens in public libraries.

    Youmedia has a site with helpful information on how to create a teen technology space in your public library: http://www.youmedia.org/

  6. I absolutely love the idea of a “genius bar” where young adults are able to be the experts in the field. Additionally, accepting the culture that we don’t need a “bank” of computers to take up an inordinate amount of space as students have their own devices and can meander around the space is phenomenal! Computers of course still serve a purpose, but they are not needed as the sole purpose of a young adult space. Additionally, the traditional study tables and group meeting areas are needed – to a degree – but can be moved to make space for greater things, like comfortable seating which creates a welcoming environment! Love the ideas!!

  7. I think we have to be careful not to make the library inequitable to those less financially advantaged by relying too much on BYOD. This is especially true in struggling socioeconomic areas. If you can create more flexible options to replace computer labs with devices that customers can use in the library then that is ideal, and support has to be provided for those who’ve had little experience with devices. This is less of a factor with teens but there are probably still some in this situation.

  8. I agree with a couple of these comments (Hamish and Lindsay). I love the idea of doing away with the “bank of computers” and rethinking our space to make it more inviting, more welcoming, and a more exciting destination for teens who not only want to come find a book or use a computer, but also want to have a fun place to hang out. That said, Lindsay, I can’t agree with you more that the Digital Divide will be a huge problem. I’m at a library in Tennessee where a large number of our patrons are economically disadvantaged. Though our teens are good at using technology, they often can’t afford it themselves. I think finding funding so that you can have a stock of mobile devices (especially tablets) that can be checked out, perhaps on an hourly basis, and used within the confines of the library might make it so that you can take advantage of the portability and flexibility of laptops and tablets, be able to keep your area flexible and inviting, and yet not disadvantage those teens whose families cannot afford to purchase them a device to bring to the library.

  9. I feel that Teen Spaces are important as well for the library to include. I know that in my area the small town libraries by me include the teen space with the children’s section or its about the space of a closet. I feel that it is needed to build in to the idea of teen spaces first with ample materials and technology because I know some libraries may not be as willing. I do agree though that youth services librarians are the advocates for obtaining this space.

  10. This was a very interesting post. While I have a hard time picturing some of the scenarios mentioned, I can definitely see the need to allocate space for teens when space comes available at the library (from whatever changes may happen). The suggestions you offered are wonderful ideas to create and maintain spaces for teens to learn and use new technology. I particularly like the idea of purchasing “flexible” furniture that can easily be moved and rearranged. With the every increasing pass of change, libraries need to be flexible and I can say from personal experience that furniture can sometimes be a huge blockade when trying to change things in the library. If the furniture cannot be moved easily or rearranged, it can impede other changes that the library is trying to make.

  11. This entry offers some really interesting ideas about the morphing of teen spaces! But I do agree with some of the other commenters in that many of these changes seem more like an ideal to strive for rather than modifications that could easily be employed within the next few years. I am a Master’s student taking a course in youth services librarianship and one of our readings stated teen spaces take up a significantly small area of a majority of public libraries. The idea that these spaces could become even smaller due to changes in technology is fascinating to me. Ultimately though, so long as libraries as able to provide a welcoming space for teens, I am all for implementing some of the changes this post suggests.

  12. I think this situation is very interesting to ponder and consider. The above comment by Megan S. makes a good point- if there isn’t much space to begin with for teens in the public library, what are we really talking about? I’ve read about libraries having a couple of book cases, a small table and some chairs, and perhaps a simple display that is considered the “Teen section”. If you take this away, does anybody notice? If your library admin hasn’t given you much space for them in the first place, why would they give it to you now that you don’t need it because “everybody has a device”.

    You also have to look at the culture of your library. If your director isn’t too crazy about teens, you may already find it hard to program for them. Having a “bunch of free space” is no guarantee that it’ll be awarded to teen services to attract patrons that may not be high on the welcome list in the first place.

    We need to be sensitive to all of our patrons’ needs when considering what we can offer them as a library. Not all of them will have an eDevice, not all of them will be tech savvy, and not all of them will care what’s going on in the library. But we definitely need to do more than to have a bunch of tables with chairs around them in that nice new empty space you just got.

  13. I live in a highly taxed suburb of Chicago. I assume the public library is rather wealthy. From what I understand, people from other parts of the country move here to work at our library (that surprised me).

    With such notoriety and wealth, one would assume there would be a really great dedicated teen section. There is a dedicated teen section, but it is not that great. It is small, and tucked away in a corner. I don’t think very many teens even know about it because it is never very crowded. I usually see the teens out about the general public.

    The teen area is nice and inviting with nice displays, some tables and chairs, walls lined with bookcases of age-appropriate material,and some teen-interest movies separated from the general collection. However, if it were highly publicised, it would be far too small to fit the population.

    A teen space should be large enough to fit the population. I like the setup though. It has no computers, but I think that is because of lack of space.

    I would make it larger, keep it friendly, but I would NOT make it a social hangout. I don’t care where technology is headed. They can hang out at the mall or at a friend’s house. A library is a place of sanctuary. Some socializing is fine, but eating, hanging out, that’s not a library, that’s a boys and girls club. Take away the reference desk, and the books, and have the librarian just hang out with the teens and answer the occasional question when needed is a waste. There needs some form of structure or there is anarchy. It’s just a club house. Why not just plug the wireless devices directly into their brains, then they don’t need anything at all.

    Wait until the power cord gets unplugged. That big empty room will just be a big empty room. Keep the books. Combine the old with the new.

  14. I love the great discussion here.

    As to what Megan, Fernando, and Mark reference, space is going to be an ongoing issue. In some ways, those long “banks of desktops” play a significant role, no matter how much we dislike them; they often physically define the space for teens or other users. But if technology is moving us away from that, it has serious ramifications. I believe it is because librarians have fought so hard to find spaces in their libraries for teens, that it is crucial to start thinking about the future of these spaces now.

    If the physical space of a library is changing, there will be renewed battles over claiming that space for different library users. If youth service librarians don’t have a plan–whether it is the beautiful and creative ideas that Linda Braun suggests, or something more appropriate for your district and community, it is important to begin that conversation now so that as change continues to come, librarians are prepared to protect the teen spaces we have worked so hard to carve out. Finding more square footage can be a huge blessing to everyone in the library, but can only be fully realized if a long-term plan is developed to seamlessly move into that imagined future.

  15. Interesting post and a really great discussion.

    Mark, I have to disagree with your comments about socializing. I think it’s definitely true that some order/structure is necessary–however, I think we need to be careful to not underestimate the importance of socializing for teens. It’s not just a recreational activity–it has major developmental roots. The need for socialization should be incorporated into existing library services, like reference and reader’s advisory. A more conversational, casual structure to these services might be different, but it is no less valuable because it is not traditional.

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