Connect, Create, Collaborate: Teen Librarians Unite! Throw away your picture books.

photo courtesy of flickr user Vancouver Public Library

photo courtesy of flickr user Vancouver Public Library

I’m on the job hunt.  I have been for some time despite loving my job.  I’m lucky enough to have found a position fairly quickly after graduating doing pretty much exactly what I want to do, being a teen librarian.  I am also the first teen librarian my library has ever had.  Yes, they have a separated YA collection (an only slightly more recent addition than me), but they had yet to offer a cohesive teen program let alone have a staff member devoted to the teens and to creating programming for them before I started working there.  I got to start from scratch; to try out programs I thought would be fun and throw out things I saw didn’t work.  It’s been a lot of work and while there is so much I would change or do differently and so many things I really want to do with my teens; I think that my first year as a Teen Librarian at a library experiencing their first year with teen centered programming, has been a great success.  (I reserve the right to take back that statement after I see how our first teen summer reading program goes!)

But remember, I said I’m on the job hunt.  Not because I don’t love my job, I really do.  I’m looking for a new position because I am only part-time.

From all that I see on the web and others I know in the same boat, this is fairly typical.  Teen librarians are doing more with less every day.  Many of us are part-time or split our time between libraries.  Many of us work just as hard on our ‘off’ hours to blog and share resources with our fellow teen librarians.  The work that I see and the willingness of young adult librarians to share their ideas and help each other is inspiring me daily.

Typically the majority of the teen or young adult positions I find are grouped with children’s librarian positions.  Many times I find myself searching through children’s librarian job postings for that shiny, gold-ish phrase: “emphasis on young adult programing.’  They are out there; over half of the public libraries in the country offer young adult programing.  We see the need for separate programming for patrons ages 13-18.   We know they are not children who want to come to story time.  We know that by that age many kids stop coming to the library; an issue that continues through early adulthood until typically, those adults have children that they want to bring to the library.  We see the need to create a safe environment for teens to be after school, a place for them to study, hang out, and grow into the adults we hope they will be.

So why can’t I find any teen librarian positions out there that are grouped with adult/reference librarian positions?  Why can we understand the need to separate the teens from the children, to give them their own corner of the library and their own genre of books to read, yet we cannot separate our own jobs from the children’s department?

Yes, I understand, ‘Youth Services’ is a broad and overarching term that includes all services to those who are not adults.  And it may be the case that teen librarian positions under that header should also be able to pitch-hit for the Children’s library on occasion.  But the vast amount of knowledge you need to be a Children’s Librarian can be very different from what you need to know about as a Teen Librarian.

Whereas the knowledgebase you need as a Reference or Adult Librarian has a lot of strong overlaps with Teen Librarianship.  Teens, or young adults are just beginning their journey into adulthood.  They crave adulthood; they want to be seen as adults.  The definitely do not want to be in the Children’s Library or have to talk to the Children’s Librarian to ask for book recommendations or help with a research project.  They are just starting to learn what it means to be an adult, to make adult decisions and to be responsible for their decisions, especially their academic decisions.

Anything we as librarians can do to help that process along benefits us all.

I think that more teen librarian positions should include time in the reference/adult department rather than the children’s.

We need the teens to know we see them as young adults but we also need the adults in the library to know that the teens are not there just to invade their quiet.  With librarians working both the reference and the teen desks, teens will see that they are welcome in the more ‘adult’ areas of the library.  If they see a librarian they know, they will be more likely to come up and ask questions, feel less awkward about asking for help, and feel more comfortable hanging around to study. One of the libraries I work at makes an effort to have their teen librarian work on the reference desk, particularly at times that students will most likely be using the non-fiction collection.  They stay open later during exams week and the teen librarian often works those late hours, providing snacks and study breaks as well as reference help. It feels more like a college library at times and I think the teens really appreciate the effort that goes into making them feel comfortable.  It allows them to get down to business and study while at the same time allowing them to socialize with their friends.

Adults also benefit from seeing the teen librarian.  We can reassure them that the teens are not there just to disrupt their library.  We can help navigate any problems that may arise when adults and young adults clash.  And we can begin to bring these two groups to a more happy medium by creating programming that brings both adults and young adults together. Maybe it’s a Teen Tech program that brings teens together with seniors who want to improve their computer skills.  Maybe it’s a college planning program that allows alumni to share their college experience with teens applying to schools. (Mentoring! Check out Linda’s great post about mentoring!)  Maybe it’s a music program where teens show adults why ‘all that noise’ is so good and adults introduce teens to music that was popular before they were born.  Maybe it’s a book club for teens and adults to discuss YA books.

There are a ton of great ways we can get adults and teens to connect, create, and collaborate together at the library!

If we, as librarians and libraries, can make the effort to see our teen population as young adults rather than older children, maybe we can also make the effort to change the way we see teen librarian positions.

Whatever it is you do, working to shift the way the position of Teen Librarian is seen from a children’s or youth position to one focused on our teens as young (very young) adults, is essential to the progress of our profession.

So now I put it to you.

What do you think?  Should libraries simply hire for Children’s Librarian positions and let one of them deal with the teens?  Should every library have a Teen Librarian devoted only to serving the teen population? Are you a director of a library who wants to share your thoughts on hiring teen librarians?  Are you a library school graduate in the same boat as me?  I want to hear your story!  Please, post your thoughts in the comments section and let me know how you would like to see the future of Teen Librarianship shape up.

4 thoughts on “Connect, Create, Collaborate: Teen Librarians Unite! Throw away your picture books.

  1. Every library I have worked at (including my current library) has had the teen librarian as part of the Adult Services/Reference Department. I know at one of them, when we were looking for a librarian to do teen programming, the job was listed as Librarian I in the Adult Services Department, so probably not specifically designated as a “Teen Librarian”, at least in title.

    I agree that teens have different needs than children and do not want to go to the Children’s Room to be served. Teens absolutely need their own space. However, if we ever get a chance to change things around at my library, I will advocate to create a Youth Services department simply because I know our teen librarian will get more support for programming (and possibly more patient reference desk assistance) from the Children’s Staff than she does from the Reference Staff. We’re used to doing the kinds of hands-on programming that the teen librarian is doing (not exactly the same, but more similar than a teen program and a historical lecture that we might offer for adults). We’re used to working with schools. And if the Children’s Staff is more connected to the Teen Librarian, we can help ease that transition for our tweens.

    Orrrr maybe I’m just a Children’s Librarian who once got to help out with teen programming and now misses it. ;)

  2. In the part of the country where I work, especially a small town libraries like mine, it seems like it’s more common (or at least as common) for Teen Services people to be part of the Adult/Reference staff than part of the Children’s Room. My title is Young Adult Librarian, but I spent more than 50% of my work time covering the adult reference desk.

    Maybe this is a case of “grass is greener,” but I agree with Abby that I would advocate to create a Youth Services department serving ages 0-18. I second her thoughts on programming support and collaboration with schools.

    For me, the question of transitioning the tweens is the biggest consideration. 6th and 7th graders often have the kind of energy, enthusiasm, and occasionally lack of control that Children’s Librarians are used to. The adult NF collection won’t serve their school needs, and as far as pleasure reading goes, they range the gamut from decidedly middle grade to advanced YA. They also desperately want to be cool – being sent to the “kids room” to find a book, even if it’s something that’s just right for them – will kill their desire to read in an instant. The farther the physical and organizational difference between children’s and YA, the rougher this critical transition is.

    Ideally, I think, a YA librarian would bounce back and forth, or staff members in both departments would take on active roles with the teen and tween population. But if I had to choose, I think being part of a Youth Services team makes more sense, logistically and developmentally.

  3. In my perfect world Teen Librarians would be their own separate thing but I know many libraries can’t necessarily support that.

    I definitely agree about the school experience. After this last week of Summer Reading promo at the Middle School I found myself wishing I’d learned that ‘teacher voice.’ in library school.

    I think a Teen Librarian should probably be floating around doing a little of everything. And the tween transition is definitely a factor.

    Maybe I’m just dreaming of the day I’d get to work on programming of all ages!

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