Caffeine_Molecule “Like a caffeine molecule.” That’s how University of Washington ischool student Lauren Woody said she would visually depict her experience attending the two day summit at Midwinter held by YALSA as part of the National Forum on Libraries and Teens. At the summit discussion centered around the future of teens and libraries. Keep reading to find out more about what Lauren and fellow student Jesse O’Dunne said about their experiences at the summit.

Q: Since the forum, what, if anything, have you brought back to your job/classroom that was informed from the event?
LW: I am taking a Public Library Youth Services class this quarter, and one of our assignments is to choose a neighborhood, do a community analysis, and design a teen program for that neighborhood’s library. As my group was working on this and coming up with a program, many of the questions I found myself asking myself, and the group, were inspired by discussions at the forum — How can we make sure this program is interest-driven and teen-driven? How can we use this program to advocate for teens to the rest of the community?

JO: I think that it is this focus on outreach that really has had an impact the way I have approached my studies. I am taking a youth services class this quarter, and the summi has changed the way I think about youth services and the vocabulary that I use. Particularly, the summit pushed me to think more about how to advance the services and programs of the library beyond its walls, working with different community partners and in different community spaces.

Q: What role do you think Connected Learning (one topic discussed at the summit) has on the future of library services for teens?

LW: I think that maybe libraries have actually been doing the work of connected learning for a long time, but the language of connected learning makes it easier to talk about it and consciously incorporate it into program planning, space design, and how we offer services.

JO: It seems vital. The internet gives us a way to reach many populations that we might fail to reach in traditional ways, and can help us to demonstrate the library’s importance in a community and the ways that “in house” library services can help different users who are not regular patrons. However, the summit also underscored the importance of being aware of existing technological divides and ensuring that we are not neglecting populations without tech skills or access.

Q: What was your main take away from the summit?

LW: I feel like I had a million, but a few simple ones that really hit home were:

  • Public libraries can be a great space for connected learning to happen. As a neutral place that isn’t school and isn’t home, they are perfectly set up to be the place where interest-driven, peer-driven, and academic-learning meet.
  • Professional development for all library staff that work with teens on things like adolescent development and being a good teen ally is crucial to making libraries a place where teens feel invited and like they want to contribute.
  • Youth librarians (and all youth workers, really) have a challenge that cannot be ignored to both keep up with, creatively utilize, and assist teens with technology while simultaneously not leaving anyone behind. I really left wondering “How can we embrace technology in a forward-thinking way AND work to close the digital divide?”

JO: As a student note taker, I often felt like a fly on the wall during the summit. There were all of these incredible, active and experienced youth librarian and advocates who were passionate about their jobs, but also about the future directions that youth services will take. I was particularly impressed with the focus on outreach, and the aggressive approach that many of the participants were either taking or were advocating.

Q: What speaker(s) resonated with you most and why?

LW: I think the speakers that resonated with me most weren’t necessarily the folks at the podium (although I learned a great deal from their talks and was so grateful to hear them!), but the conference participants themselves. I felt so lucky as a student to get to sit in on conversations between school librarians, public librarians, out-of-school time youth workers, and educators from all over the country doing amazing work on the ground every day. Hearing about their experiences, ideas, challenges, and dreams was such a learning experience for me. What struck me the most about the things people said was the enthusiasm across the board for things like collaboration and outreach. I am so excited that the professionals whose ranks I’m about to join feel excited about the same things as me. In library school, you hear horror stories about old-school librarians who don’t want to adjust or change, but that is not what I saw here at all. I saw energy, passion, creativity, and openness to new ideas.

JO: George Needham was probably my favorite speaker. He was very honest with his audience, and brought a different perspective to the discourse on issues of outreach and community awareness that were already on my mind.

Q: There was a lot of energy from attendees at the summit. What’s next?

LW: Well, I know that YALSA is hosting virtual town halls on some of the most salient topics from the forum, and I’m sure these discussions will continue into ALA Annual. For me personally, these are conversations that I will continue to have with my fellow students next quarter and that I am really thinking about as a look for jobs and prepare for interviews. I feel very lucky to be beginning a career in youth services at this moment and determined to take the challenges and opportunities discussed at the forum (connected learning, teen advocacy, multiple literacies, youth-driven and -focused programs, etc.) and run with them right off the bat.

JO: For me, hopefully getting a job! But I am also excited to apply all of the lessons that I learned into my library education and my spring fieldwork.

Thanks Lauren and Jesse! As Lauren shared, YALSA’s virtual town halls are right around the corner. The next one being Tuesday March 19. Join YALSA, get your caffeine fix from all the great energy that will be generated, and continue the conversation on connecting teens and libraries.

About Kelly Czarnecki

Kelly Czarnecki is a Teen Librarian at ImaginOn with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. She is a member of the YALSA blog advisory board.

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