Often I wonder why it’s so hard for adults to talk to teens. Is it that adults are afraid of teens? Is it that adults don’t know what to say to teens? Is it that adults just don’t like teens? Or, is it that adults don’t want to be reminded of their own adolescence so they stay away from teens in order not to remember how hard the teen years were for them?

Different adults would probably answer yes to each of those questions. Some adults probably have completely different reasons for not wanting to (or liking to) talk to teens. But, in a library in which teens are at least a portion of the customer base, then there’s no getting away from it. Adults have to talk to the teens and not only talk to them but listen to what they have to say.

I’m writing about this because I’m always amazed at how often I talk to librarians and they tell me that the program they just had or the service they just implemented didn’t work. I ask them if they talked to the teens about the plan and they usually say something like, “Yes, I told them we were going to do such and such.” Or, “Yes, I asked them if they thought it was a good idea and they said yes.” In most of these cases teens aren’t involved in the actual planning and implementing of the program or service. The idea might come from the teens, the teens might like the idea, but they have not role other than one-time yes-sayer.

The true path to success in teen library services is to talk and listen to the teens before, during, and after planning. We can’t assume that we know what teens want because we see them doing certain things in the library, on TV, or on the street. Teens that are involved in all aspects (and I mean all) of program and service development will have ownership over what goes on in the library and will work hard to make sure library programs are a success.

It’s time to get over fears. It’s time to get over history. It’s time to talk to teens.

About Linda W Braun

Linda W Braun is a YALSA Past President, the YALSA CE Consultant, and a learning consultant/project management coordinator at LEO: Librarians & Educators Online.

One Thought on “Talk to Teens

  1. I agree with this blog post! I just want to mention that talking to teens is a process. Sure the teen advisory group might just be about teen ideas when we first start meeting up, but eventually those ideas can turn into actual projects that the teens work on.

    I recently started my own teen group and we are still building up. So we spend a lot of our time talking about *ideas* and our conversations steer into interesting topics (how does that song sound? What’s the dance move that goes with it?). I allow for interruptions because I feel the social aspect of teen advisory groups is very important. Eventually, I’m hoping to work with the teens one-on-one on volunteer projects to get them trained and more involved with library planning, but I’m starting small first. I’m focusing on my relationships and ideas right now.

    So it’s not something that we can just jump in and do perfectly right away. It takes work to build interpersonal relationships and to make the words “teen advisory group” sound exciting. But a trust must be established before teens jump in and take over program planning. And it also takes work to train teens on how to put together these programs…

    I think that’s why adults are afraid of teens… it takes a lot of effort to work with them and understand them, and that effort requires a major commitment.

    Another issue at hand, I think, is that there are not enough teen librarians. There are part-time library assistants and associates that serve teens, branch managers that work teen services into their offerings, or children’s librarians that get asked to do the job. I think in order for us to better serve teens that more professionals should be assigned the sole task of serving teens!

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