Teen Services Competencies for Library Staff: Overview of Teen Growth & Development

If you’re a regular reader of the YALSA Blog, you will know that a brand-new Teen Services Competencies for Library Staff was released at the end of 2017 and the bloggers have been exploring the document in a variety of ways. It’s exciting to read these posts and begin to find ways to put those words and ideas into actions.

For me, as I read through these competencies, I saw a lot of similarities between this document and ACRL’s Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education. Both documents rely on the framework narrative – they see either their knowledge areas (YALSA) or their frames (ACRL) as the foundation and grounding for the work they do, with teens and with undergraduate students. And although ACRL’s Framework focuses on the learning of the student (versus the Competencies focusing on library staff), both use the idea of dispositions to assess learning gains and promote the idea that learning is continual.

This idea of continual learning seems especially key for the first Content Area: Teen Growth and Development. The Competencies document defines this as:

“Knows the typical benchmarks for growth and development and uses this knowledge to provide library resources, programs, and services that meet the multiple needs of teens.”

I think the three levels in this content area really nicely build off each other and this will be a content area that probably most of us will always be moving between the various levels. Because, for example, we can’t advocate for library policies that will support our teens (Transforming) if we don’t know about current teen cultures and what our teens need to succeed (Developing).

For me, the Developing Level is all about having a general understanding of how today’s teens function, think, and react to the world (and remember, that will constantly change). I did see the bulleted items as either a static skill or a more dynamic, changing skill. For the more static skills, these are simply understanding or buying into concepts about teens. For us as library staff that means we agree that “all teens need to develop a sense of self,” and we value “different attributes such as personalities, temperaments, and cultural influences.” (Competencies, 5). This Developing Level also requires us to have some background in some theory or general understanding of what’s developmentally happening when you’re a teen. Those concepts are going to be crucial as you build towards that Transforming Level.

In that Developing Level, I also see dynamic skills, ones that will require us to circle back to them from time to time to make sure we’re still on the same page with our teens. I see those skills as being “aware of current teen cultures, including the use of digital tools, language, and popular media” (Competencies, 5) and our understanding of how the library plays a role in our teens’ journeys in school, college, and life. These are skills that I know we can gain by just talking to our teens. Sure, it can be helpful to read the research out there about case studies, focus groups, and large-scale studies exploring teens’ media habits. But at the end of the day, you can’t solely rely on the literature. In order to do the best work for your community, you also have to talk to your teens. For me, this is one of my favorite parts of working in a library – asking the students I work with a lot of questions about their day-to-day. It helps me, both in the moment (usually during a reference conversation), but also informs the way I think about the student experience at my place of work and how I can better help them with their day-to-day.

As you start to grow and gain that insider knowledge, you can begin to find ways to leverage that knowledge. And as soon as you start leveraging your teens’ insight, you are moving into the Practicing Level of this content area. The programming you create, based around those conversations, observations, and baseline knowledge of teen development, are going to be more relevant for your teens because you’ve kept them at the focus. Those static skills in the Developing Level are going to help you think through the services, programs, and other resources you’re providing teens because you’re going to be thinking about what you can do to help them develop their identity, amplifying their voices and experiences, and engage your teens in a variety of ways. This Practicing Level is just that – practice. It’s about experimenting, trying new things, and always remembering to circle back to check in with the Developing Level, especially if you feel stuck or need a new source of motivation. I see the Practicing Level as wheels turning, gaining momentum for you and the teens you serve. There’s a sense of movement to this level.

Then, as those wheels are turning, you can look ahead and see the Transforming Level. When I review this level, I see a different sort of movement for these skills. In some ways, at this Transforming Level, you do slow down a bit. There is a slowdown simply because this level requires you to bring together a lot of things –people, resources, groups, research, and more. I feel the Transforming Level is really about connections and collaborations. It’s about using all your knowledge – about your teens, about teen development, and about what works for your teens, and connecting those experiences with others. This Level is all about extending your reach beyond the library – whether it into the literature/research/best practices or into your community. The Transforming Level definitely feels long-term to me, it’s going to take a lot of time to build all those things together (but you can do it!).

Wow, there is a lot to unpack in this first content area! I will leave you with some reflective questions if you are feeling excited about this content area and want to do something.

  • Thinking about the work you do with teens right now, what skills do you already possess in either the Developing, Practicing, or Transforming Level?
  • What’s one skill you would like to be better at from either the Developing, Practicing, or Transforming Level (and why)?
  • What’s one thing you could do in the next month to gain either knowledge or experience in that skill you’d like to be better at?
  • What’s one or two questions you’d like to ask the teens you work with to better understand their culture, digital tools, or media habits?

About Hailley Fargo

Hi, I'm a new professional working as the Student Engagement Librarian at Penn State University, University Park campus. As someone who provides reference to undergraduate students and teach information literacy to primarily freshman, I'm curious about the intersections of the work of YALSA and academic libraries (and how we can collaborate and work together to help our teens). In my spare time, I like to bike, read memoirs, watch TV shows, and consider myself an oatmeal connoisseur.
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