When 3rd Place is Good. Empowering Students in the Library.

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This photo, “First place, second place, third place” is copyright (c) 2009 Joe McCarthy/ gumption and made available under a Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 license.

One reason I love my high school  library job is that I don’t have to tell people what to do all day.  Sure, I’m always checking passes, giving instructions and directions, or pointing the way to obtain the desired outcome.  But, when a teen walks through the doors of our school library the decision about what to do next is totally up to them.  It is so unlike walking into a classroom where the next 90 minutes are highly structured and choices are circumscribed.  The ability to provide an intellectually stimulating environment where teens get to make the choice of what to do next is empowering for our young people and deserves to be protected.

The high school library is one of the few places where students are given decision-making power.  Sure, it is the decision-making power over their own actions, but, that is where empowerment starts.  When they walk through that library door, decisions await.  Where to sit, computer or table?  Do they need to work, or socialize a bit?  Should they listen to music while they work independently, or work with a group of classmates? Do they want to work with a group of our coders on the 3D printer or lounge in a comfy chair and read a magazine?  Perhaps they stayed up late studying last night and just need to take a nap. The library is one of the few places on the high school campus where students can be self-directed. Continue reading

So You Want to Start a TAB?

At the library I have had a hard time connecting with teens because Youth Services is downstairs, but the YA section is upstairs. My office is located downstairs, where I spend much of my time. To combat this, I have placed a whiteboard/paper pad easel in the area where their books are. This seemed to help. When I asked what they wanted from the library, they said “Water Balloon Fight”. That totally happened as a BYOB (Bring Your Own Balloons). Providing sponges was cheaper and easier to clean up.

Another way to better connect with the teens is by starting a TAB. With our first meeting a success, I think I have made an impact on the teens.

Following basic guidelines for starting a TAB, I was sure to include key phrases when presenting this option. “Meeting with snacks” worked like a charm. Teens are always hungry. I’ve had a few come to my office bragging about how much they can eat. One teen boy says he can eat a whole pizza. Challenge accepted! A total of six teens met for the first meeting. With the promise of pizza next month, I’m sure more will make their way over to the library.

My library is renovating the entire Youth Services area (not including the YA area on the upper level). The area will include a kitchen! The TAB is excited to learn that we will be able to make food when it opens in October. They were more than willing to provide food ideas to the agenda. Some suggested pizza (of course), sushi, and cheesecake (I’ll have to find a quick bake recipe for that one).

Additionally, I’ve requested that the teens be able to volunteer 10 hours per month as a TAB member. This should help with implementing prep for programming, especially in regards to the kitchen. In the agenda, I included a “new ideas” section. One of the new TAB members is interested in teaching Cantonese at our library!! Bonus for her since it counts as volunteer hours.

Preparing students for Life After High School.

Free Events for Life After High SchoolFor me, my focus on helping teens transition from high school to adulthood began during the recession. I was working the help desk and there was a customer who was trying to complete the FAFSA on a paid website. I redirected them to FAFSA.ed.gov, but a few days later there was another customer who was doing a similar thing, only they had paid $80 for someone to fill out their Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

It may be the beginning of the school year, but one of my focuses this year is partnering with other organizations to ensure that accurate information gets to students and recent grads about college and alternatives to college. Continue reading

Back to School: Building the Resume

Many libraries are in a great position to help teens develop skills and experience they can add to their resume. Whether it be volunteering on a regular basis or honing graphic design or other useful technology proficiency, teens can gain that needed edge through the library for when they seek out other opportunities.

Last school year, I stumbled across a program at my local public school system that gives students school credit for being part of a library program such as volunteering! What a win-win situation for all! Read on for more details on how the program works. Continue reading

Back to School: CIPA Policy Brief

This summer, ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy and Office for Intellectual Freedom released a policy brief marking a decade of school and public libraries limiting patrons’ access to online information due to the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA).

Titled Fencing Out Knowledge: Impacts of the Children’s Internet Protection Act 10 Years Later, the report advocates an action plan to reduce the nationwide, negative impacts of CIPA. I found it well worth a read, and you will too if you wish to understand the progressive possibilities surrounding CIPA at your library and at libraries across America.

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Back to School: The Skill of Listening

listen written on a brick wallFor many, back to school time is a time for learning new things. One thing I’m trying to learn more about and be better at is listening to what people in the community need and want from the library instead of simply going out and telling people what the library has to offer. For example, at a back to school professional development event library staff might be asked to present information on what they have to offer to teachers and students. Typically that might mean going in and saying, “Hi, we have these databases, they are great, use them.” Then we leave and hope that that helped inform teachers about how they can use the library’s resources.

But, really what we should be doing is first asking teachers and staff in schools what they are doing, what do they wish was available in the community, what do they and their students need? We who work with teens in libraries listen to what they tell us and then craft a response that is focused exactly on what we heard when we listened. It’s not focusing on, this is what I think you need, it’s focused on this is what you told me you need and I can directly help that need in this way.
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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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Back to School: Making New Connections

With the end of summer reading and learning programs on the horizon, thoughts turn to the quickly approaching school year (perhaps with a well-earned vacation in between…).  For front-line public librarians, it’s a new year full of opportunities to make connections with area school library staff.  Perhaps you’ve tried this type of outreach in the past with minimal success; maybe there’s been a staffing change at a school where you’ve had a continuous presence but now you’re not sure how things will go.  If you’re lucky enough to have excellent relationships that will pick up right where you left off…well, leave us your advice in the comments!

This is not a time to be retreating, this is a time to sell your incredible and unique services and support for both students and teachers.  Stepping outside your comfort zone and making a tough cold call, email, or in-person visit can yield amazing results.  Here are some ideas on how you could get started:

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Back to School: The Future of Library Service for and with Teens

Welcome to August and the first in a series of YALSAblog posts all about getting ready for the new school year.

forum logoI don’t think there is a better way to get started thinking about going back to school then to check-in with YALSAblog readers about how you are implementing the ideas in the Future of Library Service for and with Teens: A Call to Action report published by YALSA in January of this year.

Thinking about the fall and the programs and services we’ll work on with and for teens during the school year is a great time to learn about what others are doing that connect to the ideas in YALSA’s report. At the YALSAblog we’d love to hear what you have made happen that connect to what’s outlined in the report. For example: Continue reading

Reflections on the Future of Library Services for & with Teens Session at the ALA Annual Conference

by Adrienne L. Strock & Sandra Hughes-Hassell

The YALSA Future of Teens and Libraries taskforce led an interactive panel discussion at the ALA Annual Conference where we reflected on The Future of Library Services for and with Teens: A Call to Action report. The session was hosted and moderated by Adrienne Strock, taskforce Chair. Taskforce panelists included Sandra Hughes-Hassell, report co-author; Jack Martin, K-Fai Steele, and Margaret Sullivan. Special guest Traci Slater-Rigaud, Director of the National Arts & Humanities Youth Program Awards kicked off the session by encouraging libraries to get involved in the awards and noted the similarities in our work, particularly the focus on youth development.

As a way to collectively reflect on the report’s significance, the panel highlighted specific content from the report in the areas of demographic shifts, technology, and connected learning. The panel began by examining the demographic shifts presented in the report as well as observable shifts in our library communities. We discussed the importance of engaging non-dominant youth in library settings and debated the library’s role in learning and closing the growing achievement gap. We then considered the importance of technology as a tool, the way in which technology is changing how society interacts and learns, HOMAGO (hanging out, messing around, and geeking out) as a model for engagement, and the need for librarians to continue to keep up with technology as it relates to teen interests and needs. Lastly, we talked about the importance of connected learning, describing what it looks like, noting why it is so powerful and important in library spaces, and reflecting on how partnerships can leverage the strengths of connected learning for more powerful and meaningful growth opportunities for teens.

The main themes from the report that emerged in our conversation included the call for a paradigm shift in services to teens, the growing need for partnerships, and the importance of librarians embracing a facilitator, non-expert role in their work with teens. One specific aspect of the paradigm shift brought up by an attendee was shifting customer and staff expectations about noise. Panelists and audience participants shared excellent feedback that encouraged cultural shifts though catchy signage and designated noise times, educating staff and customers on new expectations while shifting their mindset about noise in the library, and getting staff and customers excited about the activities being introduced to teens by demoing them for staff and customers with opportunities for adults to partake in the fun and engaging learning opportunities.

Slides can be found on the taskforce’s ALA Connect page, and those unable to attend can still get involved!

  • If you haven’t already, check out the report!
  • Reflect, share, and talk to each other using #act4teens via Twitter, Tumblr, blogs, and your favorite social networks.
  • Dive into the actionable sections of the report. Start by following the recommendations (p. 25). Then dig into the questions and guide to local assessment and planning (p. 31) section.

Lastly, the taskforce would love to know what you think! Reflect by commenting on this post. Tell us what excites and frightens you about the report. Share what areas of the report you find the easiest and most challenging to implement locally. Let us know what tools and resources you would like YALSA to provide.