Going Beyond the Books and Programs: Building Real Relationships with Teens

According to the 2013-2014 Core Values for the Teen Services Profession, developed by the Young Adult Library Services Association’s (YALSA) Professional Values Task Force, there are “nine core values that define professionalism for those who work for and with teens through libraries. 1” One of the nine core values is “Compassion,” where librarians who work with teens “strive to identify with others’ experiences. Shows concern, empathy, and consideration for the needs and values of others. Within this value, librarians will demonstrate the following:

  • Communicates effectively, both verbally and non-verbally, with others, taking into consideration individual differences in learning styles, language, and cognitive abilities, etc.
  • Builds and maintains knowledge of teens’ social, emotional, mental, and physical development and how they shape the teen experience
  • Strives to understand teens’ lives from their perspective in order to create genuine connections
  • Places the needs of teens above one’s own
  • Provides services for and with underserved and underrepresented teen populations

After reading through this report, the one core value that speaks the loudest to me is compassion. If we, as teen librarians, were to prioritize these values, compassion needs to be the number one value that we need to act upon; not only is compassion the key to solidifying honest relationships with teen patrons, these connections provide us with the information and insight to support many facets of teen services including connected learning. According to The Future of Library Services For and With Teens: A Call to Action: “To support their learning—personal, work-related, and academic—library staff must connect with teens as individuals. As one participant noted: “Many teens don’t have relationships with non-supervisory adults…teens need more adults who are not “in charge of charge” of them” (2014, p.10). By showing compassion, we are conveying to teens that we are genuinely interested in their opinions and thoughts, which is why we develop teen advisory boards and similar programs. These programs allow us to build rapport with teen patrons because we are providing a dedicated forum for teens that tell them that we do value their input. If we are unable to create these kinds of avenues, we need to get up from behind the reference desk and actually talk to teens when they walk into the library. What exactly do we talk about? Talk about anything and everything! If you have a question about the latest trends, or don’t understand what’s going on Twitter, they are going to be your best resources. More importantly, if we want to know about the school curriculum, teens will tell us all about their assignments, which help us purchase materials they will need. In fact, about six years ago, I remember working with one teen who was so painfully shy that he couldn’t look at me when I said “Hello.” After a few weeks of trying to have a conversation with him, he opened up and was literally my go-to for everything anime and technology. In fact, he ended up joining the Teen Advisory Board, which was super awesome because he brought a ton of his friends to our events and some of them joined as well! It is amazing how word of mouth spreads and, if you can influence one teen, they will tell their friends, which means great turnouts for events and a whole army of minions as my colleagues once said.

As we build working relationships with teens, we also need to understand that teens want to relate and confide in us. Along with wanting to be seen as individual, teens need an adult to seek advice and to listen to them. In other words, they are searching for a neutral third party that isn’t exactly a parent, but not a stranger. When teens confide in us, they trust and value our opinion because they know that we have compassion and we are mentors who genuinely care about them. At the same time, we also need to draw clear boundaries. In other words, if teens can’t behave, they will suffer the consequences; if teens need help, we will do everything we can in our power to make sure they get what they need. It’s not always easy dealing with goofy teenagers, but, with a little love, patience, respect, and kindness, teens will see that they have someone in the library that will help them succeed and win at life.

References:

  1. http://www.ala.org/yalsa/sites/ala.org.yalsa/files/content/YALSA_CoreProfessionalValues.pdf
  2. http://www.ala.org/yaforum/sites/ala.org.yaforum/files/content/YALSA_nationalforum_Final_web_0.pdf

About Deborah Takahashi

Deborah Takahashi is a Branch Librarian for the Pasadena Public Library. Deborah has been working with teens and children for sixteen years and loves every minute. As a Branch Librarian, Deborah literally does a little of everything which includes collection management, programming, outreach, and much, much more!
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