As democratic strongholds, libraries are open to all, serving as a space for community engagement, open discussion, and intellectual development. Not only does the library space serve as a civic forum and information hub, libraries are community conversation initiators and civic guides (Gutsche, 2012; Kranich, 2012). Often when discussing civic engagement, the focus is on adult participation. However, teens should be brought into the discussion as young citizens with powerful voices that can effect change on local, state, and national levels. Libraries provide teens with “genuine and meaningful opportunities to work with each other and with policymakers to impact issues of importance” (Center for the Study of Social Policy, 2011, pg. 2). Civic engagement is tied to healthy youth development, introducing opportunities for teens to become comfortable expressing themselves, learn to think critically, and hone empathy and compassion skills.
Teens must develop the skills necessary to fully participate as engaged and informed citizens. Librarians can, and frequently do, help by providing youth programming that supports the development of 21st century skills. YALSA’s report, The Future of Library Services for and with Teens: A Call to Action, highlights the essential literacies that youth need to acquire to be work, college, and life ready. Through knowledge and skill accumulation, teens are more confident entering a world where sometimes opportunities for personal and professional development are few and far between. Additionally, within the safe space of a library, teens feel liberated to share their opinions, thoughts, and concerns with willing, involved, and engaged peers and adults. Growing up in a small rural town in Georgia, my library became one of the few places where I could learn about cultures, belief systems, and opinions that were far removed from my tiny hometown. These experiences have had a deep impact on how I serve my local community, country, and profession.