Jennifer Velasquez is a Lecturer at the San Jose State University School of Information (CA) and Teen Services Coordinator at San Antonio Public Library (TX) She is a Library Journal Mover & Shaker (2011) and recipient of the New York Times Librarian Award (2005). Her book, Real-World Teen Services, is available from ALA Editions.

Back-to-School Week: The After School Rush Is Not a Surprise

At many public library locations, the after school rush means an influx of teens that happens with clockwork precision and presents unique opportunities as well as challenges.

Teen services staff may smile when 45 teens (who have been cooped up for eight hours in school listening to adults talk at them….) burst into the library. But, if librarians and library workers start acting like security guards and security guards start acting like bouncers… bad things can happen. The after school atmosphere can become rule-driven and the focus may shift to customer control instead of customer service. And while certainly there are situations that warrant “control” and “rules” – staff should primarily be concerned with making the after school library experience of teens a positive one.  Anyone needing help with managing teen behavior can check out multiple resources from YALSA found on the wiki.

The after school rush is not a surprise. Ideally, there are positive patterns and routines established with library staff: these positive routines mean that during the after school rush staff does not disappear for off-desk time, break or dinner and teen activities take place. Staff is welcoming and not sending the vibe that they are bracing for an onslaught.

Learn the rush.
A library, like a retail location, experiences discernible traffic patterns of customer visits. Teen services staff should be observant and become aware of the teen traffic patterns after school at the library. First, is there an after school rush? Are there days of the week when teen traffic is heaviest? If there is an after school rush, when does it begin and when does it die down? Do teens tend to get picked-up when parents get out of work? Or leave to get home for dinner? Or linger until the library closes?

Scheduling programming/activities during the after school rush can seem daunting. Be vigilant about the excuse: “(I/we/you) can’t do a teen activity after school because there are too many teens in the library.” The after school rush may be the best time to begin offering activities—because teens are already there.  Talk to them to find out why they’re there and what activities may interest them or support their needs.

Know what time school dismissal occurs and talk to your manager about how this is not the time to schedule off desk time and dinner breaks. Staffing and after school activities for teens should be scheduled to meet the needs of customers (teens) not the convenience of the staff. Think of it in retail terms: shops schedule more staff during peak shopping hours to provide adequate customer service – (and because they want to make sales) – libraries can’t afford to be any different.

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Free YALSA Webinar on Soft Skills

As teen services people we are passionate about advocating for teens in our libraries. We strive for equality of service and resources and understand on an instinctive level how even the most non-traditional program/activity is library appropriate for teens. We are the people that smile when twenty-five teens walk through the door. Sometimes our colleagues don’t “get us” and we certainly don’t get them when they see teens as problems just by virtue of them being teens.

Our teen service passion coupled with the less-than-teen friendly attitudes of our colleagues can lead to conflict. In addition to being advocates for teens, we also have to be good team players and diplomats at work – and help our colleagues understand the importance of teen services. Teen services people can employ soft skills to better communicate the teen services message to colleagues in a way that is productive, effective – and makes the library environment better for everyone.

YALSA members are invited to a free webinar Soft Serve: using soft skills to enhance communication with colleagues & improve service to teens.

The webinar will include information about:

  • Tips for speaking with colleagues and administrators about teen services
  • Strategies for breaking down barriers to effective customer service to teens
  • Building a positive in-house attitude towards teens/ teen services

The 60 minute webinar is Thursday, November 20th at 2 p.m. Eastern. It’s free for all YALSA members. For more information and to register visit: http://www.ala.org/yalsa/onlinelearning/webinar

Do you have an experience to share about teen-resistant colleagues? I’d appreciate hearing about it in comments to this post.

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Plastic sofa-cover flashback: Beware the pristine, useless teen space.

My Aunt Florence’s living room was a showpiece.
Perfection: plastic covers on the sofas, protective runners on the carpeting, heavy drapes closed against UV rays. The room oozed DO NOT ENTER with everything but a velvet rope across the threshold. Standing there, toes not touching the plush pile, I’d take it all in and think, “Someday… I’m going to go in there.”

I hadn’t thought about that room in years but recently, I visited a library with a teen room with a similar Do-Not-Enter vibe. Let’s call it the Aunt Florence Memorial Library Teen Room: a pristine place possessing truly enviable state-of-the-art technology & equipment and completely devoid of teens. The machines displayed prominent signs – not instructions for use but information about the steps a teen had to take before they even got to the how-do-you-use-this-thing stage. The room was only open during ‘certain’ hours and then only to those teens that had attended an orientation.

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Stop putting up signs. Just stop.

Cringe-worthy, all-caps, taped-up, clip-art adorned, tattered and passive aggressive – the librarian species L-U-V-loves posting signs. I love them for all the wrong reasons and I hate them (let’s just say it’s complicated) and I’m not alone. Take a peek at this delightfully curated collection of passive-aggressive library signs over at pintrest. (http://www.pinterest.com/peterals/passive-agressive-library-unmarketing/)

So I’m here today with a challenge – Stop putting up signs. Just stop.

Just as it’s foolhardy to try devising a rule for every situation, it is just as implausible to post a sign dealing with every infraction or possible exception (in spectacular detail).

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