Teen Services Competencies for Library Staff: Experimenting with Learning Cohorts

This post was written by Amanda Barnhart. Amanda is a teen librarian for the Kansas City Mo. Public Library and began her career as an undefined teen library services member in 2003. She serves as the YALSA ALA Liaison.

cover of the YALSA competenciesBy its very definition, the journey of a Continuous Learner is never complete. The skill attainment levels within YALSA’s Teen Services Competencies for Library Staff are set out vertically in order to illustrate how the initial skills build upon the next, much like Maslow’s hierarchy. Yet, the way in which we navigate through “developing, practicing and transforming” may not necessarily lead us straight down the list. Once we start becoming competent in one area, we more fully begin to understand how far we still have to go treading up and down along the scale as we deepen our knowledge of a topic.

A couple of years ago, I was awarded an LSTA grant to utilize tabletop games for the development of young adults’ job readiness skills. I established a small, four person learning cohort that was made up of both teen and children’s professionals within the Kansas City Mo. Public Library organization. At our branch libraries, we already had several teen groups that enjoyed video games. However, we wanted to offer a different type of gaming experience, one that more strongly connected with specific skills. The cohort met 1-2 times per month, for a couple of hours around these topics of Tabletop Games, job readiness skills and youth programs.

skills sheetsDuring our first year of the teen program, cohort members took turns facilitating learning through board games and offering feedback to each other on our facilitation techniques. We learned how to “book talk” a game and practiced our post program debriefing style. We shared resources and tools that would help us form stronger connections in our discussions with teens of game titles and 21st century skills. We started tabletop gaming programs using titles we had practiced and that appealed to our designated audience. We discovered that the nature of the cohort allowed us to distribute the total work amongst each other and allowed us to broaden our perspectives beyond our individual audience of teen or child. It also formed a channel of support where we shared experiences and challenges in implementing the activities.

youth & adults working togetherSince then, we have ventured outside of board games. In doing so, the cohort has branched out beyond our original four person team, all of whom were designated as serving youth. Now we are a group that also includes other professionals and paraprofessionals, graphic designers and special collections librarians – in other words, those not traditionally seen as teen (or youth) specific library staff. When facilitating tabletop board games activities, and other programs and activities that we also facilitate with and for teens, with library staff groups, the staff obtain firsthand knowledge of the benefits and skills youth gain from these programs. In training other staff on tabletop gaming best practices, or creatively finding ways to involve them in another part of the learning process, we create an inclusive environment that fosters a culture of learning within the organization.

youth working togetherOur cohort was able to reach this level of staff impact by retracing our steps, identifying knowledge gaps, and finding information or individuals to help locate the answers we sought. While I currently lead the tabletop gaming initiative, I hope that other staff within the organization will continue to pick up the applicable parts that relate to the youth the serve,and find new directions in which to take their work, the work of their colleagues, and the program.

Working on this program continues to be a challenging, yet fun, process of reflection and learning, one that we are thrilled to see our young people get to experience. We couldn’t turn this opportunity into success without the assistance of a variety library staff that learn with their colleagues and teens in the community.

Learn more about the Competencies and upcoming free webinars on competency content areas on the YALSA website.

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