Teens, Help Yourself

Recently this image has gone viral. It’s a photo from Sacramento Public Library that seems to have been first posted online in January. Many of my colleagues have been inspired to post a similar sign in their branches. This sign demonstrates a practical solution for providing assistance to teens who, for whatever reason, are reluctant to ask staff for help.

Many teens I find roaming in the library often do not want to engage with staff. I do things like wear fandom buttons on my lanyard, which has helped to start conversations, but when most staff offer to help  a teen find a book or show them how to use an e-source, they politely decline.

So how do you serve someone who doesn’t ask for help? The sign above is one solution. It gives teens the information they might need while also giving them privacy and autonomy. They have the freedom to choose whether they search for the information privately, or look with friends.

Knowing that we often have teens that come into our branches and do not interact with staff, we set up a pseudo scavenger hunt as part of our summer teen program. We asked teens to find codes hidden in the library stacks so they could familiarize themselves with various places of our branches where they might find books of interest. We also created an e-sources scavenger hunt asking them to find the name of services we provide that we feel would benefit and be of interest to teens in our community. Lastly we created a badge that asked them to visit one of our branches and learn about the artwork found in the building.

Alex Byrne, a librarian I work with, found another way to engage with teens who may be reluctant to approach staff, or who prefer self-directed programs. Inspired by a project I’d done which involved putting a Posterboard up with a question like “What is the best book of 2014”, or “What is your favorite TV show”, he created a space where artists can create drawings that are left in the teen area, and used to decorate the space. Because he hasn’t seen any of the artists that draw the pictures, he calls it the invisible art collective, but it’s been a great way to help make the teens visible even when they aren’t physically present.

One of the artwork pieces submitted to the collective (by Z.B.):

CatBalloonsDrawing

These examples are just a start, and there is more we can be doing to empower teens in the library.  How do you embrace your role as facilitator of library services while also encouraging teens to be proactive and independent? How do you make peace with and try to engage teens who are reluctant to interact with staff?

About Jami Schwarzwalder

Currently a teen librarian with the Pierce County Library System in Tacoma, WA.She is passionate about technology, making, and learning. See what I'm up to at https://about.me/jamischwarzwalder
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