One of my favorite things about ALA conferences is that I get to hear dozens of things people are doing in the libraries. It’s always energizing to hear about the cool programs, exciting new services, and even listen to stories about teens using the library.

However, this can be discouraging for people who are having difficulties establishing teen services in their branches. These stories can turn into a long list of things you wish you could do if only my boss would let me.

What many do not realize is that all of us have road bumps along the way to our successes. We all wish we had more space, more support, or could reach more teens. I have yet to find a library system that is perfect (if you work in one please let me know :D)

The most important thing is that you are connecting with teens, whether it’s recommending books to teens that have to read something for an assignment, or hosting a program where teens can create and socialize. All of the great programs that your see libraries doing, come from librarians listening to teens and giving them what the teens ask. You can’t do this without having a staff that understands the value teen services offer, so you have to make sure you tell them.

Part of being a successful teen librarian understanding how to work like a politician or advocate for your teens. If you are feeling overwhelmed in a library system that is saying no, try to find out why. Align what you want to do with the priorities your director, board, and community have. Spread the word in your community about all the positive things that teens do. Prepare an “elevator speech” about why you need teen services, and share it with the people in charge. Also most importantly work with your colleagues and community to do things that are important to them. Once you get to know all of the key players in your library and your community and find out what is important to them try to ask for what you want in a way that highlights how it benefits them and what they care about.

That is one key to getting some support when you feel frustrated. Does anyone have any other suggestions?

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

2 Thoughts on “I Want To Do That, But We Can’t Do That Here

  1. Thanks for posting this Jami. As a newish librarian, I face the teen services challenge practically every day. I have to keep telling myself that my work will grow, and people will get used to the idea that this type of library service is not going to go away. That has been the hardest thing – wanting teen services at my library to be established, dynamic, robust… but it has to *exist* before it can be any of those things. That’s my charge, to get it off the ground (of my own ambition, not my library’s). It’s been more challenging than I ever anticipated… but I’ve made inroads. My mantra: it’s going to take time!!

  2. Teen services certainly can be an uphill battle, but I think if you’re dedicated then you can accomplish a lot. In addition to Jami’s excellent suggestions, I recommend making sure that you stay flexible. One thing that you have to be willing to do yourself is make compromises. If your library district is willing to allow video game tournaments but not with first-person shooter games like Halo, be willing to play Mario Kart! Prioritize the things you and your teens want, and try to focus on the ones that are most important. Above all else, stay motivated with your teen patrons and let them know that even though it may take time, you are working with their interests in mind. Even if you never get to have that Halo tournament, those teens will remember that you care and that you did try for them!

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