Bring together a group of energizing professionals from different backgrounds who have devoted their talents to serving teens and prepare to be inspired. The Summit on Teens & Libraries was a part of YALSA’s National Forum on Libraries & Teens funded by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and these two days of creative thinking about missions, opportunities, aspirations and connections was simply dazzling. After a series of speakers and small group discussions, I took away a powerful word: relationships. So often we go about our daily routine, and we take time to think of the best library programming or instructional ideas or focus on our technology and book offerings. Those things are key to our success of course, but none of that matters if teens don’t feel connected.

A teen panel took questions from YALSA President Jack Martin, and in our discussions we kept referring to what they said brought them to the library and what they wanted from their experience. It was clear that connecting with interests, friends, and the library staff kept them coming back. As studies show and our speakers stated throughout, learning driven by teens and their interests is most meaningful. Two powerful statements from the panel that resonate with me are “The library gave me a community” and “I leave with new ideas.” What could possibly be better than that?

‘ Cultivating positive, non-judgmental relationships with teens and helping them form meaningful connections with others is something we may think we do already, but as closing speaker George Needham from OCLC reminded us, “Question everything. Including yourself. Especially yourself.” My group’s wild aspiration at the conclusion of the summit was to bring these’  passionate conversations back to our local environments and have everyone immediately buy-in. Yes, we’ll encounter the regular eye-rollers, but the potential connections we can make in our communities, with each other and with our teens is too important to be derailed. But our first step is to look at ourselves. My immediate action when I return home to my school library world is to ensure that my favorite instructional practices and ideas for engagement outside of academics are truly student driven. That I creatively seek partners who share my mission of youth engagement. That I learn more about how to bring Connected Learning into school libraries, and that I spread the word of all I’ve learned in these two days to strengthen current relationships and forge new ones.

‘ Interested in exploring further? Check out the prolific #yalsaforum hashtag and make plans to be a part of the first virtual town hall on teens & libraries March 19th.

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