Innovations in Teen Services – Making a difference with Teens using Outcomes

As mk notes in her CoveritLive post about yesterday’s awesome Innovations in Teen Services panel, I was scheduled to speak on the panel but was grounded at the airport for an unplanned six additional hours. While that’s a whole blog post in itself, and probably not even the worst flight horror story of the conference, I’d like to share a bit here what I did plan to present. Special thanks to my colleague, Catherine Haydon, ALA Emerging Leader, who stepped in at a moment’s notice and shared information regarding using outcomes with teens.

While defining outcomes for your teen programs and services, isn’t necessarily something new, we’re probably seeing a lot more on our radars in terms of the importance of telling our story as libraries, particularly because of limited resources that we’re competing for in our communities. Being able to share that we’re making a difference in the lives of teens, is one way that we can show as a library we’re bringing value to the community. At my library in Charlotte, NC we have a teen intern program where teens learn to create with digital media and teach others how to do this as well. Continue reading

Homework Help in the Library: What’s it All About?

Does your public library provide homework support for teens? Chances are the answer is “yes.” Many (or most) public library websites offer a homework help section, full of links to databases, websites, and librarian-approved search engines. You may offer other homework support services as well, like subscriptions to student-friendly databases, a collection of print materials specifically for school assignments, or special programs (for example, late night hours during exam times) for studiers. Some public librarians work hard to connect with teachers and media specialists in order to learn what’s happening in the classroom and supplement and support what’s happening in the schools.

On its face, homework support is a positive and obvious service for a public library to offer. School libraries are not usually open late in the day, which means students often need a place to work on homework and access resources. As a publicly funded institution, shouldn’t the public library be spending some of its dollars on homework-related activities that complement what happens in the school library and the classroom?
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A Waste of Time and Money?

What if you were told by your powers that be that the library was no longer going to provide web-based homework support? No more categorized links to web sites on topics covered in the classroom. No more 24/7 Ask a Librarian for homework. No more special web sites that are just about how to do homework.

If you were told this would you think, (and maybe say out loud) “Oh no, this is impossible, we have to have web-based homework support for teens? The teens need it?” Why would you think that? How would you know the teens not only need it but they want and use it?

Maybe it’s time for libraries to re-think their notions about web-based homework support for teens. How many teens do you know that go to the library’s homework help pages before or instead of going to Google or Wikipedia? How many teens do you know that think about the library at all as a place to go for homework help when on the web? Is web-based homework support for teens a waste of time and money?

It’s true, that by providing this support libraries show the community (including teens) that the library is available for homework help – face-to-face and online. But, maybe it’s not worth spending the money and the staff effort to keep such an endeavor going.

This isn’t to say that libraries shouldn’t have a web presence in order to help teens with homework, and of course other information needs that teens have. But, instead of making the teens come to the library web site it’s time to start being where the teens are and perhaps give up the clunky web presence that rarely can compete with Google or Wikipedia. For example, some libraries have already created applications for popular social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace so that teens can search the catalog from within the social network instead of having to go to the library web site to do that.

There needs to be more of this kind of library web development for teens. What if database vendors created applications for social networking sites so teens could search the database without leaving their online social home? (BTW, some vendors already do this.) What if the library created applications for Facebook or MySpace to help teens write citations? What if there were applications for building searches successfully? What if there were applications for….

If teens are going to Wikipedia for information, what about making sure that Wikipedia entries on topics that teens in your community have homework on reflect the informational needs of the teens? (Anyone can add or create a Wikipedia entry, wouldn’t it make sense for librarians to be in Wikipedia working on the content in order to support their communities?)

Where are the teens in your community going to find homework information? Where do teens spend most of their time on the web? Lets face it, it’s easier to go where the teens are in order to help them then to make them come to us. So, why not take the easy path? Give up the big web presence and find out how you can have a homework presence in MySpace, Facebook, Google, Wikipedia, YouTube, Flickr, Ask.com, etc.