Engaging the Futures Report: discussions with library staff Part 1

The first time I read The Future of Library Services for and with Teens, I was inspired. The second time I read the report, I was overwhelmed. The third time I read the report, I was determined. As I looked at the findings in the report, and the steps YALSA calls out to ready our libraries to serve teens into the future, I felt like I was drowning. How could I implement all of these changes? And then I remembered that I was not alone, I was surrounded by amazing library staff who could, actually they should, come on this journey with me. So I started a discussion centered on the findings in the report and it has been one of the most professionally satisfying experiences of my career. If you feel a little overwhelmed, or want to build support for the actions outlined in the support with your colleagues, I highly suggest starting a discussion group.

First, the report looks deceptively long, don’t let that scare you or your colleagues from diving in. The real meat of the report, that provides the best fodder for discussion is only 33 pages long, that is achievably short, even for the time poor. We broke our discussion up, planning to cover the whole report in three discussions of 30 minutes each (about 10 pages per meeting).

We started small, with a look at the executive summary and the introduction to the report. This generated more discussion than we could cover in 30 minutes (I might recommend at least an hour) but I would rather get the conversation started and have it continue in the staff room, at the desk, and over coffee breaks. I knew we should allow for thoughts of dissent, one of the things I love about my colleagues is our ability to challenge assumptions. We want to really break things down so we can understand them better. You will notice a lot of questions that allow for the voice of dissent.


  • How do recent cuts in school librarian jobs change our role as public librarians serving teens?
  • Does the Library play a role in closing the achievement gap? Are we succeeded at that? What could we be doing better? Is that what our community needs? Is our community defined merely by our serving district, or does it expand beyond city/county/state borders?
  • What are the negative influences on our teens that we can help alleviate or solve?
  • Do you feel prepared to deliver culturally competent library service?
  • What is our role in preparing teens for the workforce and making sure they have 21st century skills and technological literacy?

Executive Summary

  • The report states that libraries are grappling with diminishing resources. How are we facing diminishing resources to serve teens? What resources are diminishing?
  • The report also states that we are serving a changing teen population. How is the teen population of our community changing? What have you noticed?
  • If the diversity of teens is grown everywhere, how are we welcoming to all users? Have we changed anything to meet our new users where they are? What do these demographic changes mean for how we serve teens?
  • How do you see rapid technology adoption impacting our services to teens?
  • Do you feel it is the library’s role to help prepare teens for the workforce with critical skills? What skills do they need? How are we already meeting those needs? Where and how do we need to grow capacity?
  • How do you feel about this statement, “…[The library] needs to evolve into a place, physical and virtual, where individuals can learn how to connect and use all types of resources, from physical books to apps to experts in a local, regional, or national community. Libraries must leverage new technologies and become kitchens for ‘mixing resources’ in order to empower teens to build skills, develop understanding, create and share, and overcome adversity.” How do we already do this? What challenges do we face?
  • YALSA highlights the library’s critical role of providing an education system outside of formal schools. Are we leveraging that opportunity? How so? What would it mean for us to become the center for community education?
  • Who is our audience? How do we balance outreach and serving those who come through the door?
  • YALSA calls for skilled staff to act as mentors, coaches and connectors. How are we primed to do that? What challenges do we face?
  • What do you think about Outreach as a tool to measure need in the community? Is that how we use it?
  • What kind of policies do we have around serving teens? Are they flexible and easy to update as YALSA calls for? How can we impact change?
  • Do we take a whole Library approach to planning, delivering and evaluating teen services?
  • What does “literacy as a social act” mean? Are we serving our community in this way? Are our teens literate by this definition? What can we do to influence that?

With the care of passionate librarians, my colleagues created such a thoughtful and meaningful discussion around the report and these questions. We really came to focus on the ideas of being culturally competent and the changing demographics of our teen community. After our first discussion, several staff dove into Department of Education statistics about the schools nearest their location, and municipal statistics on poverty and race. They prepared reports for our next discussion over pages 4-12 (which will be summarized in part 2 of this series!).

As I continue these blog series about The Future of Library Services for and with Teens, I am curious what conversations you are having around the report? Which one of these discussion questions really piques your interest?

A big thank you to my colleagues who have participated in the discussion. I have the advantage of working for a library system. We have over 300 employees, staffing 13 libraries, serving an county of over 500,000 residents. I get to work with almost 40 passionate youth services staff members who have really embraced our discussions around the support.  We have a wide variety of voices and perspectives in our department, which is one of my favorite things about our staff. Their insights have challenged me to look deeper into the report, think differently about it and notice things I had skimmed over on previous reading.


About Kate Mcnair

YALSA Board Member 2015-2018
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