Connect Create Collaborate: Who Are the Teens We Connect With?

image of cheerleaders on the football field in a pyramid by Flickr Creative Commons user sd dirkI’ve been thinking about the library staff working with teens that say to me, “I love working with ….. teens.” In the …. spot they usually say the geeky teens, the artistic teens, the literary teens, the drama teens. But, I never hear the football players, the cheerleaders, the popular kids, and so on. Maybe it’s just the library staff I’m talking with but I keep wondering, “Why aren’t I hearing that those groups are loved by library staff?”

Now I know, many will say to me, but the popular kids, the football players, the cheerleaders, etc. don’t need us as much. But, is that really true? Just because a teen is popular doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t need information literacy skills, relationships with library staff that can act as role models, opportunities to reach the developmental assets through library services. Does it?

I often think about something I heard a psychologist say many years ago. She was talking with a group of library staff about how to work successfully with teens. She mentioned that the teens who look the most together are often the ones that need adult support the most. These “together” teens are often given more responsibility by adults because they seem like they can take it. But, in many cases, they don’t have the skills or togetherness actually required.

Of course we want to serve the underserved and this can mean a lot of different “types” of teens. It can mean the teens who come from lower-income homes that need access to resources they can’t get anywhere but the school or public library. It might mean teens who have an interest in writing fan fiction and don’t get support in that area anywhere else but the school or public library. It might mean teens who are incarcerated and the library in the detention center or jail is the only place where they can learn about a favorite topic of interest. It might mean the football player who loves to read biographies of sports legends and the only place he can find enough material to fulfill his interest is the school or public library.

What I’m getting at is in libraries we need to make sure to connect to all teens in the community. Not just the teens who seem to need us the most because they either remind us of how we were as teens or because they are obviously interested in the library or because they are obviously interested in the things that library staff are interested in. We need to make sure that when we have a chance to connect with the sports stars in the school, the cheerleaders, and other teens who might not fit our idea of a library user that we take the opportunity. We need to make sure that we don’t send any subtle message to teens who don’t fit within the “teens we love to work with” model (or mold) that they don’t need us or we don’t need them.

I know that teen library staff are working hard to serve teens in their communities. It’s just important to do a check and make sure that some teens aren’t being left out because we love to work with other teens more.

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