If you’re working with teens in a library – any kind of library — you should be a leader. Being a leader doesn’t have to mean you’re the boss – or that you ever want to be the boss, but it takes intentionality and may mean thinking about your role in serving teens a bit differently. Level Up Your Leadership Skills is a regular feature on leadership topics for staff working with teens.

We all have a lot on our plates. Working the desk, doing outreach and working directly with teens are all important parts of our work. Depending on our role, we may not have direct control over our schedule or exactly how we manage our own time.

But we often have control over how we spend at least some of our time — so how can we decide what to prioritize within the many possible tasks we could be doing or new projects we could be starting?

One way is through a relatively simple matrix, that plots effort against impact – how easy or hard it is to implement something against the impact or outcome we’re trying to achieve.

Let’s say you had four items on your list for “new fall projects.”

1. Meet with new teen parent coordinator at local school to identify how to work with teen parents at that school
2. Start work on training for staff on how to talk with teens
3. Booktalk for one class at middle school across town
4. Staffing a library table at a community event

Meeting with the teen parent coordinator is pretty easy and it’s low-cost, too. It’s probably a pretty high impact, especially if our goal is to reach teens that are at-risk. Whatever project results out of this meeting, though, may be more work.

Developing a training for other staff is not as easy to do — it will take some time. But it may have a pretty high impact.

Doing booktalks at the private school across the town may take some time to prepare. And the impact may be minimal since you’re only presenting to one class.

Staffing a resource table doesn’t take that much time, and you may talk to a lot of families or see students you already know, but how deep or lasting will your impact be?

Using this process, you may find that meeting with teen parent coordinator is easy and could have high impact. It may be a first place to start. Projects that are difficult and the impact is minimal — or not known — may take a lower priority.

You could plot these visually on a grid like this one from the Thinking About Learning blog.

You could also get fancier with 9 boxes like this, which is a common tool from Lean principles, which originated in manufacuring but now used in a variety of industries. You could also create a spreadsheet and rank each project on each scale, using numbers on a scale of 1 to 5 or 1 to 3.

You could also use other categories for prioritization, including comparing work that is “work my boss wants me to do” versus “work I really like doing.” You could use a similar process with young people if your team is working to identify their next project or how to spend their budget.

No matter what position you’re in or what process you use, prioritization is part of everyone’s job. When we start to use it in our own work with teens, it helps us, our manager and library, and helps demonstrate the importance of these skills to young people, too.

About Maureen Hartman

I am the Division Manager for Strategic Services at the Hennepin County Library in Minnesota and a former Board member for YALSA.

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