YALSA @ ALA Annual 2016: Take the Next Step in Teen Services

Over the past few years, I have noticed that there has been a movement in YALSA to shift teen services in libraries. This shift has taken teen library staff from being mere program providers to being opportunity connectors and learning leaders. With the rise of connected learning, libraries are quickly moving into the forefront of informal learning and teen empowerment. Library staff have become vital elements in the empowerment of teens through relevant, outcome-based programming that develops the 21st century teen. This notable change in direction has made me extremely passionate about services for and with teens, and I noticed this theme in every session I attended this year in Orlando. Library staff all over the country are stepping up their programming in favor of interest-based learning and exploration that effectively engages today’s teens.

One of the first sessions I attended was a presentation on Raspberry Pi by the Raspberry Pi Foundation. I had visited their booth in the exhibit hall and wanted to learn more about their products and how to incorporate them into my programs. Raspberry Pi is a credit-card sized computer that plugs into your tv or computer monitor and uses a keyboard and mouse. It’s a high-performance device that allows the user to explore computing, coding, and more. I was amazed at how such a small device has put the power of digital making into the hands of people all over the world. In addition to computer education, Raspberry Pi has an unlimited number of uses; everything from turning it into a personal wifi hotspot to creating advanced maker projects like a wearable camera or developing a multi-room music player. Recently, the Raspberry Pi Foundation has partnered with British ESA Astronaut, Tim Peake, to send two Raspberry Pis (dubbed the Astro Pi) into the International Space Station. Both devices were augmented and coded in part by school-age students to measure the environment inside the station, detect how it’s moving through space, and pick up the Earth’s magnetic field. Each Astro Pi is also equipped with a different kind of camera; one has an infrared camera and the other has a standard visible spectrum camera. I had absolutely no idea that a Raspberry Pi had this much potential for STEM and cross-curriculum learning, or that the same Raspberry Pi’s that were sent into space are the same as the ones you can purchase online. Not only is the potential for engaging STEM learning abundant, but The Raspberry Pi foundation makes its learning resources available for free on their website. You can download their magazine, MagPi, check out their books that will help you navigate a Raspberry Pi, or begin tinkering with a Pi by downloading the desktop interface, Raspbian. With all of this potential for making and learning packed into a compact, affordable package, Raspberry Pi’s are the next step in your library’s makerspace.

Another session that really stood out to me was called Engaging Teens with Meaningful Volunteer Opportunities, which highlighted methods to implementing an engaging, career-oriented volunteer experience for teens at your library. Personally, managing teen volunteers is not something I feel is a strength of mine. I always feel as though volunteers end up creating more work than actually easing some tasks off of my shoulders. I want to give them meaningful experiences other than just cleaning shelves or helping to discard books, so I knew this session was a must see. The overall takeaway was all about empowering teens with interest-driven activities so that it doesn’t feel like work. How does one do this? By turning the volunteer “work” into a project-based learning. One presenter noted that she requires applicants to fill out a form where they list their interests and talents. Based on this feedback, she fits them into a “squad” that will perform programs or tasks based on that interest. For example, if a teen fills out the survey stating that they are fans of gardening, they’ll be placed in the group that will be caring for the library or community garden that summer. I learned that this kind of project-based learning, where volunteers gain skills and knowledge together by exploring or responding to a task, is the best way to ensure that teens leave their volunteer experience feeling empowered to someday enter the workforce or pursue a career in college. Presenters encourage the attendees to structure their volunteer program as a “bunch of small projects that add up a large final project.” This not only activates the teen’s social learning, but by the end of the summer, they have a tangible outcome for the work they have been doing at the library. I had always implemented this kind of mentality in my regular programming, but never thought to translate that to our volunteers. I left the session inspired to revolutionize the teen volunteer program at my library, and knew I now had the tools to do so.

Overall, I was impressed and excited by the amount of fantastic sessions and learning opportunities that YALSA had available for library staff this year. There were other great panels on hosting large scale, fan-based programming (or a ‘con’) at your library, reaching out to support teen parents, and engaging diverse teens with relevant programming. Attending ALA Annual has inspired me to take teen services in my library to the next level by implementing more connected learning opportunities, project-based learning, and empowering teens with services for and with them!

About Elise Martinez

Elise Martinez is the Teen Services Specialist at a library in the northern Chicago suburbs. Elise is always looking for ways to communicate the vital role of libraries in the lives of teens and is interested in connected learning, digital literacy, and technology-based programming. You can find her bookish ramblings on Twitter @elisereneem.
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