You are not alone – Reflections from YALSA Symposium

On Nov 7-8 YALSA brought together librarians, authors, and other professionals passionate about serving teens.  I was lucky enough to be able to attend the YALSA Literature and Young Adult Services Symposium, but for those of you who had to remain at home, here are some themes from the event:

Technology is a tool that you can use to connect teens. Whether you use Teen Volunteers to share their knowledge with tweens and younger, supporting fan fiction writing or host technology camps, you can make a big impact by just being open to connect with teens about their interests.

You are not as alone as you might feel. Whether you are the only librarian, or the only teen librarian on staff, there are great networks and resources to support you. Support is important, and even taking the time to have drinks with librarians from neighboring libraries can help you creatively solve problems/issues you might encounter. Almost all of the sessions featured collaborations between colleagues. A lucky few had support from administrations to formally provide amazing services, but even finding a like minded colleagues to collaborate, brainstorm, and get validation is so beneficial. So if you don’t have someone like this in your organization, you might find someone locally, or another member of YALSA and ALA. Make the commitment to talk or chat every 3 months and make is a priority.
There is a difference between host and guru. Often at the library we provide enough resources to get someone started. We inspire and support, but we would never call ourselves experts. When we are supporting STEM programs, the best programs always leave room for participants to tinker, play around, or fail. Failing is very essential part to STEM, because it’s the opportunity to learn from your mistakes. When hosting a tech program or doing a reference interview we must remember the phrase “I don’t know. Let’s find out together” Modeling how to fail will not only build STEM skills, but also life skills. We provide a safe space for learning at the library, and must ourselves be willing to take chances, make mistakes, and learn.

All Teens are different, but also the same. Every teen that comes into your library is going to be interested in many different things, but at the core when they find their passion and build a connection with you, they will love to share their passions with you. Don’t expect all teens to love books or videogames, or to hate books or video games. Also just because a program failed or was a success in the past doesn’t mean that interests have not changed You might get a different result if you try again. To help yourself have more hits than misses make sure you are talking with your teens, especially the teens who don’t see actively participating in program or checking out books. Give them ways to send you messages. One panelist mentioned that her teens use Facebook messenger to send requests Find what works, but do not forget to try new things.

There was so much great information at the Symposium, and I’m still trying to digest everything I learned, but I hope that these help you if you were unable to attend.
Key Quotes:
“Serve the teens not the rules”
Bean Boozled challenge is great ice breaker”
“To be accessible, start with Saying hello as they enter the library”
“Passive Programs reach teens if you don’t have a space. Consider Coloring pages, Scavenger Hunt, or guessing contests”
“Only you know how much you can do”
“Don’t reinvent the wheel. Your colleagues and Pinterest had already made the mistakes for you”

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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