Over the past couple of weeks I’ve had conversations with library school students and colleagues about teens and libraries that have made me want to scream and cry simultaneously. But, really what these conversations make me most want to do is speak out for the importance of serving teens in libraries, and in the community overall. Here’s what’s happened:
- I’m talking with a group of librarians and one of them recounts the story of a conversation she had with a colleague. The librarian noted that the conversation went something like this, “I wish the library in my town provided better services to teens.” The response, “Maybe they don’t need to, the teens in that community have a lot of other resources, activities, etc. that they can take part in.” I heard this and just wanted to scream, I may have actually done that. Would a librarian say that about adults or children? What’s the message that the library sends to teens when it has a host of programs, resources, and services for every other age group?
- While talking on Twitter with some library school students about library services to teens the conversation turned to the way teens are treated in some libraries. Students recounted stories of librarians taking away chairs so that the teens wouldn’t be able to sit and therefore would not stay in the library. Or, library staff saying negative things about teens when talking with other library staff. These posts made me want to cry and I felt like some students and library staff take for granted that this happens in libraries. It felt and feels like staff diss the teen age group and it’s just to be expected. But, how can that be OK? Would it be OK to do that with any other age group or group within the community?
Of course these stories aren’t unique or even so new. Those of us that have worked with teens for many years have been dealing with these attitudes for quite awhile. But, at the same time, I think that for some of us, it can seem that we’ve made a lot of progress in helping others to understand the value of teen services so it’s possible to become complacent and think our work is done. But, oh no, that is obviously far from the truth. It’s clear that there is still a lot of work to do.
So, what do we do:
- Be ready to respond to colleagues and community members who speak about teens in non-positive ways. Have in hand examples of the ways in which libraries have an impact on teen lives. Maybe it’s a story of a teen that passed a course because of the library and that experience gave him or her the confidence to do better in school and apply to college. Maybe it’s talking about how library programs help support STEM initiatives and give teens the skills they need in the areas of math or science or technology. (The winter issue of YALS has a wide-array of articles on STEM and the ways in which libraries can and do support STEM with and for teens.) The key is being able to talk about the why of library programs and services to teens and how they help teens grow up successfully. While it’s fun to talk about programs and how much fun the teens have at them, that’s not going to sell people on the value of the services. Fun can be had lots of places. Speak up about the value the library provides to teens that goes beyond fun.
- Don’t simply laugh about, or accept, policies and attitudes that provide a different level of service to teens than what others in the community receive. Speak up about the inequality of the situation and make sure that members of the community and library staff know that they are treating teens differently than others. Would a librarian take chairs away from children so they don’t spend time in the library? Would a librarian suggest that adults have plenty to do in the community already so they don’t need service from the library? No. Why is it acceptable to have this double-standard based on the age of a teen? Work to change the acceptance.
- Become familiar with what it is that causes adults in the community to treat teens differently and be able to respond based on those causes. If adults think that teens are scary then talk about all the ways that teens exhibit non-scary behaviors and talk about how adults who are afraid of teens can overcome those fears. Or, if adults think that teens will be destructive, talk about how that’s not the natural tendency of teens and how through building relationships of trust and respect that teens gain opportunities to demonstrate their honesty and integrity in a community.
Recently Audrey Sumser posted an article about teens as advocates that included good resources on gaining skills to be successful in advocacy efforts with teens. Check out that post, and other posts on this blog that include a lot of good information on the topic.
Instead of crying or screaming be proactive and speak up and out for teens. It’s the only way to move forward and make sure that teens have the library services and community respect that they deserve.