Making Traditional Library Services Teen Friendly
PLA Conference

March 24, 2006

Dawn Bussey, Director River Forest (Ill.) Public Library.

Mary K. Chelton, Queens College, Flushing N.Y. VOYA,

Angela Pfell Henderson District (Nev.) Public Libraries Virtual Reference Librarian with

Aaron Schmidt, Reference Librarian at Thomas Ford Memorial Library Western Springs IL

One hand out of six slides about River Forest Public Library

Dawn Bussey
Started with programs but realized that is not enough

Teens have a different way to approaching information

They like to receive library services in different ways than in the past

We may have some opposition along the way.

We need to invite teens in and provide a place where they can stay.

Teen and Info Seeking Behavior

“What’s more to say than get more technology, get more patron support, get more…”

YALSA, Smart Girl, and OCLC released research that says that teens prefer a search engine to the library.

Academics are all classroom centered and school centered. Therefore, Public Libraries have not received much about public libraries

Found an average of nine errors per teen when conducting a search

This generation does not understand intellectual freedom

They need to know the subject they are looking for, and librarians need to help show them.

They cannot search if they do not want they are looking for

They do not know how to assess what they need to know

Kids want more than facts about drugs, and sex,

They want contextual information, and do not trust people who did not have experience.
That is somewhat scary.

Many librarians have ignored that many students come in to get information for a teacher. (Melissa Gross) Therefore, we have to stop insisting they be happy about it

We need to treat them for who they are, not whom we think they are.

Why do we have this ideal user in our head that kids cannot live up to?
This person does not exist,

Pay attention to space. They need space for interaction. (Why can’t we take a percentage of the adult/children lounge and let the teens re create it as our own)

Friendship is a large portion of being a teen, and we must accommodate.

“I think they use it as a place to just meet and talk. I think they use it as an informal meeting place.” (THIS IS A GREAT THING)

We should look at teenagers as an opportunity.
All the research shows that the deficient is not with the teens but with us as librarians


You already have a space for teens: your website

18% of the virtual reference users were teenagers

We are interacting with teens

If you have ever done virtual reference you know, it is like the first time they walk in the door.
They will test you. It is their job.

Teens are nocturnal so at 10 at night without the library open where are they going to go?

They are more comfortable online.

The Virtual Reference will serve everyone, not just teens

Librarians will need to know how to interact with teens online.
They need to know the language to use, that may be informal, but that is ok

31% of teens look for help information online

We seem to be afraid to do something because we are afraid of what might happen.

If you are not seeing 31% of teenagers walking through your door you have to figure out how to reach them.

This generation is huge, bigger than the boomer generation.

We cannot risk not meeting them.

It will allow you talk one on one with teenagers.

You can work through all the roadblocks

It will extended your services longer to when they need it

This is part of what Teenagers do.

Teens set the pace, Phone companies, search engines…

Think about how portable the library would be if they can talk to a librarian on PDAs, Cell Phone. All from a website.

Worked with more teenagers being online than in her physical library

It is not easier it is not harder
It’s just different

Having a Phone

PEW has wonderful Studies about this
53 million American adults use instant messenger
Teens think email is a way to talk to Old People- do we want to be old people

Not having IM is as important as not having a phone

Teen was a completely different person when in person than online.

Had an entire conversation about books online.

Any question you get at the ref desk you will get on IM

Teens would add the library to their buddy list, so when the library got online they would send a flood of messages.

Virtual Reference will open the library up to non-local questions.

We are forcing them in the Library Designed world

Myspace is huge.

Getting more hits than Google

16 libraries have a page on MySpace

At a gaming program teen said, “Hey is it alright if I run upstairs and grab a book or magazine”

Video games in the library is a great idea up within next 24 hours

River Forest Public Library

Received message “what is 505” teen wanted to know the relevance of the number on Ruben’s shirt. They wanted information before they purchased the shirt.

Before she arrived at library, there was a history of fighting. They had a police officer in library. No One came

When officers were short, they could not have an officer, so they hired someone who liked teens.

Now they lost funding for it, they could not even have a person

“If we entice them will they come?”

They are right next door to middle school

There is competition. You have to be ready to invite them in and not throw them right back out again.

Updating space and collection

Provide new services
Change attitudes

Prepare for the future

Carved out niche.

Turned bookcase to create a little pocket. They don’t like big open space.
Add some comfy beanbag chairs, add some books they love.

It is nutty for a little while but then they settle down they pull books off the shelf to read, they ask questions about homework and talk with friends


How does all of your staff treat teens, Circulation, Reference….

They also have to be empowered to deal with the difficulties of patrons.

You have to teach staff the reason why it’s a good thing that the teens are there, that they talk and work in groups for assignments.

Have a code of conduct. THAT APPLIES TO EVERYONE.

What is your boards’ position to teens in library?

They need same explanations as staff
They need to share same story that staff is sharing when they are approached

Looking at the future:
Referendum- If your school cuts after school programs what will happen?


ASK= After School Kids

Board thinks that a program to have teens in the library after school to watch a movie, play a game, learn about databases…

Told her they didn’t want a daycare service. She could have a room, but if she gets the money she can do it.

She has $9,000 now.

Be Prepared
that teens come with accessories- backpacks, scooters, bicycles,

Let them work together, designed spaces for it

Let them play together.

Understand they talk

Let them feel comfortable

Make sure everyone tells the same story.

Myspace is like having a bike. Its dangerous, Kids could get hurt, but we teach them how to use and be safe-Aaron

About Jami Schwarzwalder

Currently a teen librarian with the Pierce County Library System in Tacoma, WA.She is passionate about technology, making, and learning. See what I'm up to at

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