Research on Competency Content Area 2: Interactions with Teens

Authored by the YALSA Research Committee

Throughout the current term, the YALSA Research Committee will be looking at Teen Services Competencies for Library Staff through the lens of research.  Through our posts, we will attempt to provide a brief snapshot of how scholarship currently addresses some of the issues put forth through the standards.

This post focuses on Content Area 2: Interactions with Teens, which is generally described as “Recognizes the importance of relationships and communication in the development and implementation of quality teen services, and implements techniques and strategies to support teens individually and in group experiences to develop self-concept, identity, coping mechanisms, and positive interactions with their peers and adults.” Bernier (2011) approached the notion of youth patron engagement by examining media representations of young adults.  The author argued that libraries, like most institutions, institute policies and assign resources for groups based on cultural assumptions, such as those established and reinforced by news media.  In his content analysis of news stories, Bernier found that teens are generally negatively portrayed, often as voiceless criminals, trouble-makers, and in need of adult rescue. Bernier encouraged libraries who serve young adults to deliberately consider their institutional approach to this group with regard to policies, resources, space, and relationships with teens.

Joseph (2010) acknowledged that many adult library staff feel uncomfortable, even threatened, when approaching young adult patrons.  The author described a developing learning package for library staff, created by multiple agencies in New South Wales, Australia.  Through the lens of serving young adult patrons, the package teaches staff about laws, policies, and rules; design of library space; communication with young adults; teen brain development; diversity; impact of drugs and alcohol; and additional resources to provide further help to youth patrons. At the time of the author’s writing, future stages of the learning package have yet to be developed, but that which has already been established suggests potential for helping library staff meet the objectives of Content Area 2.

Harper (2017) took a more focused approach to making students feel welcome in the library through her inquiry into the implementation of care theory in school libraries.  Based on the author’s examination of prior research into care theory and its practice in schools, Harper developed a model by which infusing care theory into library instruction, the collection, and the facility may serve to make an academic and emotional difference in the lives of students who may need such support.  Johnson (2012) found that the types of relationships and interactions staff have with patrons can greatly impact the library’s social capital.  Although the author examined all ages of patrons with which public libraries interact, she specifically noted that those librarians who had found fulfillment in working with young adults came to realize that they had to establish a trusting, personal relationship with the patron before they could really help them, citing the importance of daily, consistent interactions. Johnson also discussed the importance of providing teens their own space within the library in order to give them a safe, free area to social interact. 

Turning to a more focused group of teen patrons, Maccio and Ferguson (2016) examined library services to LGBTQ runaway and homeless youth (LGBTQ RHY).  The authors found that most public library services for teens unintentionally ignore the life challenges of the LGBTQ RHY, thus preventing this population of patrons from being able to use library services to develop healthy identities and practices.  The authors found that cultural competency training was identified by practicing librarians as being necessary in the development and advocacy of appropriate services for LGBTQ RHY patrons.  Arguably, this type of training would more easily allow staff to engage LGBTQ RHY patrons in communication and relationship-development.    

As with many topics related to Teen Services Competencies for Library Staff , additional research is needed in the area of library interactions with teen patrons.  Points at which current research agree, however, are 1) interactions with teens are improved when teens feel that they have their own space in the library in which to engage other teens in a safe, friendly environment; and 2) library staff are more likely to experience positive, fulfilling interactions with teen patrons when they have a working knowledge of teen development, needs, cultural differences, challenges, and preferences.  For more information regarding priorities for research, read YALSA’s National Research Agenda.

Bernier, A. (2011). Representations of youth in local media: Implications for library service. Library & Information Science Research, 33, 158-167.

Harper, M. (2017). Helping students who hurt: Care based policies and practices for the school library. School Libraries Worldwide, 23(1), 41-54.

Johnson, C. A. (2012). How do public libraries create social capital? An analysis of interactions between library staff and patrons.  Library & Information Science Research, 34, 52-62.

Joseph, M. (2010). An exquisite paradox: Making teens and young adults welcome in public libraries.  APLIS, 23(3), 107-110.

Maccio, E. M. & Ferguson, K.M. (2016). Services to LGBTQ runaway and homeless youth:  Gaps and recommendations. Children and Youth Services Review, 63, 47-57.

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