When I started as a librarian, I wanted to help all libraries reach out to teens in meaningful ways. I’ve been at my job for a little over a year now, and while I still have a long way to go, I’m proud of some of the things I’ve done this past year to help the teens own teen services at my branch.

Working with teens takes trust, a caring heart and a willingness to listen to new things. While I would love to have a huge teen space in every branch with daily programs and amazing collections, I’ve found that teen services is more about relationships than the size of your collection, the amount of your programs, or even the amount of space dedicated to teens at your library.

Service teens is about talking to parents who don’t understand their son or daughter and helping them understand that its OK to pick up an audiobook or graphic novel instead of a novel. It involves working with schools, teachers, and other organizations that teens use frequently. Its genuinely listening to the teens ideas and giving them a chance to make the programs, collection, and space theirs with minimal barriers. Its also about showing the community all the positive things teens are capable of, such as drawing, writing stories, or giving back to the community.

If you are looking for ways to get teens to take ownership of the library here are a few ways to garner teen input:

  1. Put up a blank posterboard with a question, so teens can write their response (What is your favorite Band or Anime or Book). A good follow up is to check to make sure these items are in your collection.
  2. Before you order new magazines, or any items for a specific collection, survey the teens about them (Ask What should we keep? What should we add? Any you think we shouldn’t have, Why?)
  3. If you have the staff to support it, hold a teen program once a week. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, just reserve the meeting room for them. Then let the teens decide what they want to do. I tend to bring at least 3 choices, and the ones there at the beginning of the program get to pick what we do. Also Halfway through I tend to switch things so everyone gets a chance to do what they want.
I do not have a teen council or TAG. I let the teens that come to my weekly programs be my council. As they draw, game, or hang with friends I’ll ask them about what they want to do in the coming months, or about any big programs I’m planning. I’ve earned the teens trust by always bringing what they’ve asked for, or an estimation of when I’ll be able to let them have it if I can provide it. If its not possible I do tell them why, and invite them to help me overcome the hurdles if there are any. (We do not play M rated games, and have yet to host a talent show)

And while I’ve not convinced every employee in my library system of the value of teens and services to them, I am grateful for all of the people who are very excited and supportive of teen services because without them I would not have really been able to do anything. I’ve pulled in pages, circulation, reference librarians, and even administrators to help me be the eyes and ears for what the teens want from their library. Its my job to help the teens see what’s possible.

So when you get frustrated I hope this helps you see that deep down its about helping one teen been more confidant about themselves and who they are by finding acceptance for being themselves from you.

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 https://about.me/jamischwarzwalder

One Thought on “Connecting with Teens

  1. Cathi Dunn MacRae on January 16, 2009 at 7:30 pm said:

    Jami, I am late reading your June 2008 posting, as I am exploring YALSA’s excellent blog to prepare for a training that I’m giving to teen librarians in a public library that has never offered teen services systemwide. Although I worked in 4 public libraries during 20 years with teens, I haven’t worked in a library for many years. This blog is helping me to get up to speed with what it’s like today for teen librarians on the job. I’ve been impressed and excited by the postings here–so many ways for reaching teens that didn’t exist for me!

    My first YA librarian job started almost exactly 30 years ago–when young people actually HATED being called teens. (It’s true–that’s why my generation of librarians was skeptical about switching to teen services. One of my YAAB boys said that the word “teen” reminded him of a Cathy Rigby tampon commercial. Anyone know who Cathy Rigby is? Unfortunately such TV commercials still exist.) Despite all the bells and whistles of today’s technology–especially communicating about library services online–you’re in exactly the same place I was after a year on the job, Jami. And you’ve already learned the most important reason you’re there.

    You express it simply and well: “I’ve found that teen services is more about relationships than the size of your collection, the amount of your programs, or even the amount of space dedicated to teens at your library . . . . It’s my job to help the teens see what’s possible.”

    Your library teens will never forget that you have been there, reliably listening to them and responding to them, and showing them how the library can be a place where they form some of their most enduring relationships while learning who they are. It’s not about flashy programs and collections and big budgets. You’ve reached the heart of the matter. You’re a youth advocate–an adult to trust. An adult who builds bridges.

    So is everyone who shares their experiences on this blog, all members of a challenging but ultimately rewarding profession. It heartens me to see how teen librarianship has grown, with so many who are so committed to teens, who care so much. No matter how much of a slog it seems sometimes, YALSA bloggers, keep helping each other keep on. Someday you’ll be invited to your grownup teens’ weddings, you’ll meet their children, and you’ll even welcome some of them into our profession because they learned from you to pass it on.

    Thanks for reminding me what it’s all about.

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