In recent years many libraries have invested energy and resources in creating or enhancing teen areas.’ ‘  As author Kimberly Bolan points out in her great YALSA white paper The Need for Teen Spaces in Public Libraries we all know that this investment in physical space is an essential part of successfully serving teens in any library. The significant increase in the number of libraries with teen spaces has been terrific to see, but with the recent economic challenges’ many libraries are facing finding the staff, programming budget and general resources to make the most of a teen space can be tough.’  What’s a teen librarian to do when you’ve got lots of teens with lots of energy and a shrinking budget to serve them?

First, don’t panic.’  This really is good news!’  Remind yourself, your staff, your community and your administrators that having teens in the library is further evidence of the important role the library plays in the lives of young people, especially young people whose own lives may be disrupted by the tough economy.

Second, go organic.’  Don’t always schedule your programs.’  Do them when they need to be done.’  Be ready with a simple craft idea (like those discussed in Carla Land’s December 10th post), board game or, if you’ve got it, video game option for the after school crowd.’  It doesn’t have to be planned, it just has to be’ easy to start and stop.’  Make it and take it crafts that can be completed without too much staff help and within sight of staff can refocus the energy of an antsy after school crowd to something productive and fun.

Third, rekindle your partnerships.’  Are there volunteers and organizations in your community that work with teens that can provide programs, activities, tutoring, college prep information/testing or other resources during the busy after school hours?’  Can this be provided on a regular basis with a formal agreement?’  A Memo of Understanding signed by both partners can help ensure that everyone knows what is expected.

Finally, make time to talk and listen to the teens visiting your teen area.’  Ask them how they are and, whenever possible, spare a few minutes to actually listen to any response they might be willing to give.’  Or ask a teen about the online game they are playing or the music they are listening to.’  This quick bit of attention and interest can help staff connect with teens on a more meaningful level than the most expensive program.’  It can actually be a lot harder to do on a daily basis than planning programs or doing booktalks.’  Time is the most valuable commodity we’ve got.’  Don’t forget to give it to your teens no matter how much you’ve got going on during your day.

About Paula Brehm Heeger

Past-President of YALSA (President, 2007-2008) and current member of the YALSA Board of Directors (2006-2009). Past YALSA Committee Chair positions include Partnerships Advocating for Teens (PAT), TAGS, Intellectual Freedom; Past ALSC Chair positions include Notable Children's Videos; Contributing author to upcoming "Quick and Popular Reads" (ALA Editions, forthcoming)

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