A few years ago a colleague emailed me and asked about what his public library should do on their re-designed/re-developed website for its teen presence. I said, “don’t have one.” Well, what I really said is “if you have teen pages on your site then focus them on the adults in teen lives and not on the teens.” Anytime I get asked this question, which I do quite a bit, my answer is the same.
I know, some people are thinking that by not having teen focused web pages on a library site it’s like saying no to a teen space in a library. But I disagree. For public libraries, I think it is different for school libraries, I think spending time, effort, dollars and more on teen web pages as a part of a library site is a waste of time and money. Have you looked at your teen page statistics lately? How well are they doing? And, if you tell me they get lots of hits, are you sure those are teens visiting those pages, or are they the adults in teen lives – teachers, parents, youth serving staff, etc.? Or, if you tell me that your teen advisory board is using the pages then that’s great, but why no one else?
First ask yourself, why would teens come to our library website? Would they come for links to resources? Probably not, they have Google for that. (OK, I know Google isn’t the end all and be all but that’s where teens are going to go first, not your library site.)
It’s likely that if teens are going to come to the library website they are going to want to find events, search the catalog, and maybe use databases. So, then, instead of creating a separate section of the library site for teens make sure that when using those tools on the library site it’s really easy for teens to discover the content they want and need.
Now, that’s really where the work comes in. For the library catalog, events, and databases you might not have a lot of control over how teen discovery is handled. Have you talked to the vendors your library uses for those services about teen use and access? If not, isn’t that worth doing?
Think too about how teens are accessing web and digital resources. For many it’s a mobile experience. How well do your databases, event calendars, and catalogs work in the mobile environment? Have you tried them to see what it’s like for teens to use these resources on tablets or smartphones? You should. And once you do you should talk to whomever is responsible for that experience and advocate for the importance of making sure that it’s a friendly experience for teens.
There are the other ways to support teens digitally and virtually without a focus on traditional library website pages. Giving teens a chance to promote content they create – video, text, photos, etc. – is something that some libraries provide via their web pages. But, in 2013 aren’t there better ways to give teens the exposure they want or need? Instead why not help teens to promote their work via social tools like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.? That’s where their friends are going to find them. So, your job can be to help them use those tools successfully for self-promotion and exposure.
In the Fall issue of YALS, in YALSA member mailboxes in mid-October, Connie Urquhart, Marketing and Public Information Coordinator for Fresno County Public Library, provides 10 tips for marketing to teens. In her article she writes:
…use it [social media] in the same way people do with their other friends: sharing something funny, posting photos, and commenting on other people’s posts, tweets and photos. Friend other local, teen-friendly organizations and businesses, and be part of their conversations. That organization may reach a huge segment of teens who never before considered using the library, and this is an excellent way to gain visibility with those groups.
In other words don’t take the social out of social media. Instead of web pages that are pretty stagnant (this includes blogs as well) use social tools and other technologies to connect with teens in interactive ways. That’s how you can spend the time you, or other staff members, now use for planning, updating, and maintaining web pages. That will have much more of an impact than a section labeled teen on your website. And, it will reach many more teens than your web pages probably do.
If you do continue to have teen pages on your website think really really really carefully about who is the audience for those pages. I’ll suggest, strongly, that the audience really is the adults in teen lives. If that’s the case, what do they need in order to help teens with resources, library materials, and so on? Focus the page content and style on those adults.
Do you think it will be hard to sell administration and colleagues on this idea? If so, then gather some statistics about how teens are using the web and your website in particular – on traditional desktops and laptops and on mobile devices. Talk with teens (outside the library as well as inside the facility) about what they do look for in a library website, or what they might look for if they were to use a library website? Don’t be afraid to try something new. If it means reaching more teens virtually, then that’s the point. Isn’t it?