Back to School: The Skill of Listening

listen written on a brick wallFor many, back to school time is a time for learning new things. One thing I’m trying to learn more about and be better at is listening to what people in the community need and want from the library instead of simply going out and telling people what the library has to offer. For example, at a back to school professional development event library staff might be asked to present information on what they have to offer to teachers and students. Typically that might mean going in and saying, “Hi, we have these databases, they are great, use them.” Then we leave and hope that that helped inform teachers about how they can use the library’s resources.

But, really what we should be doing is first asking teachers and staff in schools what they are doing, what do they wish was available in the community, what do they and their students need? We who work with teens in libraries listen to what they tell us and then craft a response that is focused exactly on what we heard when we listened. It’s not focusing on, this is what I think you need, it’s focused on this is what you told me you need and I can directly help that need in this way.

This isn’t just something we need to be doing with teachers at back to school time. It’s also important to talk to community partners and listen to what they are telling you they are doing for and with teens. From that listening you can then find ways to connect what you have to offer – expertise, materials, connections to others in the community. Whatever it is, if you listen you’ll better be able to connect to an actual need, instead of a perceived one.

And, of course, this also relates to the work we do directly with teens. We need to truly listen to what they have to say about their lives and what they need. Instead of telling them what we can do for them or thinking that they need a particular program or service, it’s up to use to ask and listen.

I think one of the hard parts of this is that listening requires not just asking the questions but also analyzing what we hear without simply using preconceived ideas and notions in that analysis. To truly listen it’s important to take what people tell you – adults or teens, parents or teachers, friends or colleagues – and think that you might (and probably are) hear something totally unexpected. Then you need to take what you hear and use it to create something new and innovative or to retweak something that you’ve been doing a particular way for a short or long period of time.

This fall as teens are going back to school and being asked to listen in their classrooms, do the same thing yourself. Listen to what people in your community are telling you about what they need from the library. Then work to give them what they actually need, and not what you wish or hope or think they need. It will improve your service and help to make the library an integral part of the community that teens, and others, can’t live without.

To learn more about what’s going on in education and learning and responding to community needs try these Twitter hashtags:

#act4teens is a YALSA created hashtag that focuses on how to advocate and support teens in the community.

#commoncore is a great hashtag for hearing what people are saying about the common core and how it is being integrated into teaching and learning.

Also, don’t forget to follow hashtags for your local newspapers, schools, etc. as they are sure to give you lots of information about what’s going on and give you ideas for what you want to ask in order to hear what people need.

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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