This two-part piece looks at ways to manage large afterschool crowds in a library. To read about ways to build relationships and empathy, manage noise levels and energy, and work effectively with staff from other departments, see Part 1. This post discusses behavior and discipline.
To keep things fair, orderly, and predictable in a busy library, consistency is key. At Addison Public Library, Elizabeth Lynch has found great success using a system called Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS). She says, “The core of PBIS is…that kids really don’t know what appropriate behavior is, especially in a public setting. So the focus is to educate them on what expectations are and think about the systems we’re creating and whether that’s giving them the support they need in the space, or whether we’re making it impossible or difficult for them.”
PBIS is not only a philosophy, but also involves a set of clearly-defined rules, consequences, and instructions for staff. These are discussed in the sections below. Having clear and explicit rules helps teens learn what appropriate behavior is, and creates consistency in staff responses to troublemaking. It also reduces friction among staff, since everyone is operating under the same rules about what is appropriate and how to respond to infractions.
For some libraries, back to school is more like back to the zoo.
If your public library is in walking distance of a middle or high school, chances are you have what’s known as an “afterschool crowd”–a term uttered as often with alarm as it is with affection. While large groups of teens coming to the library is a gift and incredible opportunity, it can often leave library staff feeling out of control and create friction between Young Adult Services staff and staff from other departments, particularly those who value peace and quiet.
While I was working on my Master’s of Library and Information Science, I had the pleasure of working for Elizabeth Lynch, the Teen Services Coordinator at Addison Public Library in Illinois. Every day, 60 to 120 kids troop across the street from Indian Trail Middle School to the library in a wave that calls to mind the Invasion of Normandy. The kids are hungry, chatty, sometimes cranky, and full of pent-up energy. Many come from low-income families and their parents work. The library is a safe place for them to stay until they can be picked up.
How do we provide these teens with education, fun, safety, and positive socialization—and keep them from damaging eardrums, property, or our relationships with other patrons and staff? I’ve drawn on my own experiences and advice from Lynch to offer some ideas.
In this post, we will discuss ways to build relationships and empathy, manage noise levels and energy, and work effectively with staff from other departments in your library. In Part 2, we will discuss behavior and discipline.
Our school reading specialist and I decided to revisit our middle school student book club. We took a year off from it for several reasons, not the least of which was lack of interest by students and us. It had been run like a traditional book club, everyone reads the same book and meets twice a month after school to discuss the book. Our problem was that our after school clubs meet for an hour and a half, and that time was too long to just discuss a book and choose the next one. We tried having everyone read a book by the same author to give more choice. We found a similar, disinterested reaction. Our students were happy to talk about the book for about half an hour, but wanted the rest of the time for social chat. We tried coming up with some related crafts to fill the time. Everyone painted one of the standard ceiling tiles with a reading theme or based on a book. This was a hit and made for a colorful library ceiling, but that only covered two meetings. We tried to make the book club available 24/7 through an Edmodo group to develop stronger relationships with our students, and get everyone to share what they were reading.The students found it to be just an extension of what some of their classes were already doing – it was too much like school. Our attendance dropped off, resulting in no book club for the last school year. We needed to regroup and rethink what a book club looks like for middle school students.
In the meantime, the library has had some spontaneous, pop-up or “lunch bunch” book clubs. Groups of four to six students create their own book club by reading the same book and meeting during lunch to read and discuss it. These clubs may read only one book and disband or choose to read several throughout the school year. Lunch bunches are not formal and are student led. Usually, student visitors will notice a lunch bunch eating and meeting in the library and then form their own with their friends. We just monitor to make sure the noise level is appropriate and suggest books when the club is stuck for ideas. It is very hands off for adult participation. A way to inspire students to create their own lunch bunch is to create a display of books that have multiple copies for a lunch bunch club. We hope our lunch bunches will meet again this year.
You know how it goes: it’s 3 o’clock in the afternoon and suddenly the library has become overtaken by teens! This after school rush is prime time for library staff to engage teens on a variety of levels, whether that be through interest-driven activities or by encouraging them to learn a new skill; the opportunities are limitless. Passive programming is a great way to do this without throwing teens right back into the structured learning environment that they just left. Teens need a chance to unwind, however, exploration and discovery doesn’t need to stop! When I first took up my position as library staff working with teens, I was overwhelmed by the potential for programming that I felt should be happening after school hours. I tried to push everything into this limited time frame and as I was feeling burned out, I realized my teens were too. I turned to passive programming to change things up and offer a different variety of learning opportunities for teens after school.
Use your space: At my library, Zion-Benton Public Library in the northern Chicago suburbs, we recently opened a teen space during the summer of 2015. This space has provided us with plenty of opportunities for cohesive, creative passive programming. During the first few months after the teen space’s debut, we asked teens to help us promote the new space by taking a creative selfie that answered the question, “how do you use the teen room?” We asked them to post it on social media and get the word about the opening. It was a lot of fun to see the different ways that teens enjoyed the space! Don’t have a dedicated teen room? Set out a monthly guessing jar for teens, or a weekly (or daily!) riddle out on your reference desk. You can still engage teens and provide some fun passive activities for your daily visitors.
Get teens involved: I decided to use teens to promote various programs by encouraging them to take a selfie with a particular book or performing a specific activity. For example, every April we host an author festival for teens at our library. I will put the visiting author’s books out on a table a week before the festival with a sign encouraging teens to create word art that predicts what the books are about, based on the book’s cover. If they take a selfie with the book and their sign, post it on social media and tag the library, we give them some kind of small incentive. Teens come up with some pretty crazy ideas based on the book’s cover. We usually call this passive program, “Judge a Book by It’s Cover.” It’s always a hit. You could do the same kind of activity with teen book reviews as well.
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.
Back in October 2014, I wrote about a report entitled: “America After 3 PM.” The Afterschool Alliance was writing about how students spend their time after school. In it, I raised the point of libraries as hubs for after-school activities, a free spot for teens to come if they don’t have the resources or access to other after-school programs. At the end of January, Alia Wong from Atlantic wrote an article called “The Activity Gap,” which discusses the access issues students from various socio-economic classes face with participating in after-school and extracurricular programs.
Wong begins the article by comparing two different students, Ethan and Nicole, whose family backgrounds contribute to two different lifestyles and life paths. While their names have been changed, these two students do exist and were case studies in a study published in Voices of Urban Education. This national study was conducted by Brown University’s Annenberg Institute of School Reform.
In this post in the YALSAblog series on badging programs we look at the way that programs that serve teens in their out of school hours are integrating badges into their programs and services. There are a lot of interesting ways these programs are using badges and they can serve as models for libraries that might want to develop their own programs. Or, present opportunities for partnerships between community organizations and libraries who can develop badging programs together.
While some schools are just now realizing the usefulness of badges, some out of school time programs, like Girl Scouts, have been using badges for years. Now, even Girl Scouts, are using badges in new ways. “My Girl Scout Sash is an App, aims to encourage girls ages 5-17, with an emphasis on those in middle and high school, to learn app development as a way of seeing computer programming and other science, technology, engineering and mathematical (STEM) skills as career choices….”