Working in a rural library often means a small space, a small budget, and a small staff. Despite all the hurdles to overcome, teen library services are very important in rural communities where other facilities for teens may not exist. In my community, the need for productive teen activities has popped up in both community and library needs assessments. With just over 10,000 people in our service area, the library is one of the few places in the community open to young adults outside of school hours. We have an important role to play in providing a safe and enriching space for teens, but this can seem like a daunting task when your official job description ranges from baby story time to technical services.
I work directly with teens every day, but my job involves a wide range of other tasks. Like many other rural librarians, I sometimes start my work day singing with toddlers and finish it with offering assistance to older adults on the computer, but teens deserve to have services tailored just for them, even in the smallest public library. YALSA’s Public Library Evaluation Tool provides examples of basic to distinguished public library practices as they pertain to teens. One element of this tool that stands out to me is “equitable funding and staffing levels.” Step back for a moment and think about whether or not your institution is providing equitable resources and time toward teen services. Between fixing the printer, collection development, and desk schedules, we must find the time to offer quality services and programs to teens.
So with all the demands on our time, how do rural librarians make it work? You can maximize the potential of your space, time, and budget by carefully evaluating how your work will best serve YOUR teens. While many of the ideas out there on the web from sources like the YALSA Blog or the Teen Librarian’s Toolbox will convert easily to a rural environment, it is important to think about what is a good match for your community, specifically. There is no reason (or time) to devote limited resources on an idea destined to flop. Sometimes it’s hard to guess what will be a hit among local young people, so your best bet is to ask the teens directly. This could be in the form of a TAG or survey. If you don’t have a TAG, bounce some of your ideas off regular library visitors, or if you are trying to reach a new group of young people, put a feeler out to the school librarians or other youth serving organizations to see what is needed by their teens.
In addition to vetting your ideas, take a look at the community calendar. Recently, the Belgrade High School hosted a Day of Caring event where teens went out into the community to volunteer. While many teens spent time picking up garbage at the park or visiting older adults at the Senior Center, I asked if there were any artistic teens interested in spending the morning volunteering at the library. Several enthusiastic teens came over and decorated the library for the summer reading program. One of the students mentioned that she enjoyed using one of her talents to help the community rather than doing something else with her volunteer time (see the picture at right). What do you have going on in your community? Do you have an annual festival frequented by teens? Can you create a tie in program?
Also spend some time thinking about what goals you are accomplishing by offering particular services. Clearly defining your strategy will help you maximize impact even if you only have time to offer one or two teen programs a month. If you haven’t yet, make sure to read through the 40 Developmental Assets from the Search Institute. Are your programs relevant to teens’ social and emotional development? Maybe you can add an element to an existing program to offer more exposure to creative activities or to foster interest in service to the community. Linking your programs to the building blocks of adolescent development will also help demonstrate the value of the library to administrators and the community.
There are many things to think about in terms of youth services in a small community. You can look forward to more posts from me in the coming months that will explore rural, teen librarianship.