I don’t know if you do this, but whenever I read an article about a topic that I’m not very well versed in I ask myself, “how do I know?” How do I know, since I’m not knowledgeable about this topic, that what I’m reading is actually accurate, or even of value? As librarians working with teens we are always helping young adults figure out how to evaluate information that they access. I think there’s another component of this (for both teens and librarians) that goes beyond knowing whether or not something is accurate. That’s knowing how to find out about whether or not something is important, and worth learning about.

I think about this a lot when it comes to technology. How do I know what I need to know about emerging technologies in order to be ready to support teens in a particular area when needed? How do I know that I should pay attention to apps, or to ebooks, or to anything really if the “thing” hasn’t taken off yet with teens or in libraries? It’s not easy to be proactive and learn what’s important to know before even knowing it’s important. I do have some ideas however:

  • Start paying attention to library topics that aren’t specifically teen or even youth focused. For example, read articles about what’s going on in academic and corporate libraries. Check out research on seniors in the library and on what’s happening in technical services. Go to conference programs that cover areas that you aren’t familiar with. And, when you start reading and attending look at everything with an eye to how what’s being discussed relates to teens. It’s very possible that you will learn about something a library is focusing on that is not presented as having anything to do with teenagers, for example the way that ebooks are cataloged, and realize as you read or listen, that what’s being said has a lot to do with young adults. You will get ideas that you might never have had by paying attention to something outside of the library young adult world.
  • Whenever you read something about a topic that isn’t specifically related to teens, ask yourself, does this have a teen or library teen services connection? In many cases you might find that it does. For example, you might read an article in the local newspaper about how the pizza place down the street from the library is using social media to connect with customers. If you start to think about the techniques the pizza place is using, you might realize that you can use the same to connect with teenagers via social media, or even via more traditional methods.
  • Seek out professional development that isn’t library and/or teen services focused. Take a class in something like beginning web development or starting a store on Etsy. Those might seem like topics that are crazy for you to pay attention to, however, you never know. By learning about these topics you may get good ideas about initiatives you might start with teens, or how you might improve your overall library services for teens.
  • Keep an open mind. If you read about something that sounds far-fetched, or odd, or like it has no connection to teen services don’t jump to conclusions. Really think about what the possibilities might be. Maybe not today but in the future. Start thinking in terms of this is interesting, what might this mean to teen services, and we can try this. Start thinking that way instead of thinking, this doesn’t really have any impact on teen library services and besides we probably could never do this. Being open to what’s possible can have an amazing impact on what you actually can achieve in the library.

By trying to always find out what you don’t know you’ll definitely serve teens even more successfully. You’ll be ready for changes in services that might be on their way. By working on knowing what you don’t know you’ll be proactive instead of reactive. A very good way to go about things.

How do YALSA Blog readers know what they don’t know? Post your methods in the comments for this post.

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 “30 Days of How-To #5: How to Know What you Don’t Know

  1. I had a professor that hated the course evaluation question, “Did your professor do a good job of telling you about the subject?” She hated it because how did we the students know if she did a good job; after all, we were uninformed students going to her to become informed. Same goes for the fact that we learn to be librarians from librarians. Maybe we are missing a critical information medium.

    Thanks, Linda! Very thought-provoking!

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