It’s a fairly universal idea. One that few would really choose to debate. So why is the concept of putting teens first in teen services important enough to serve as a focal point to the next YALSA Strategic Plan? When we talk about the The Future of Library Services for and with Teens: A Call to Action, we often implement the hashtag #act4teens and talk about a Teens First mentality. But what does acting for teens and putting teens first really mean? For YALSA’s next Strategic Plan, it’s critical that we strive to maintain the central message of the Futures Report and carry it forward.
Working with teens can be challenging, but most of us would agree that the value of preparing teens for the next phase of their lives far outweighs any difficulties we may share with them on a day-to-day basis. Many of the outcomes that we measure in our libraries are not truly based on teens first, but instead on more random but quantifiable data. Examples of this include the circulation or use of the collection, the number of people attending our programs, or the number of people walking in the door. These all provide valuable information, but the numbers place the focus on tangible things rather than on teens, and putting them first. Any policies that put teens last need to be seriously reconsidered.
Everyone loves catchy displays, lists of books that have won awards, cool programming ideas, and plenty of staff in the building. Spending too much time creating lists of books puts the collection ahead of the teens. Curating displays that bring staff great joy but don’t catch the attention of many teens puts staff ahead of teens. Instead, put teens first by focusing our time on what teens in our communities are asking for. Talk with teens about the collection and have meaningful conversations about what they’re reading. Put teens first by aligning programs that account for your community’s audience. Ask teens what they want and what you can provide for them to prosper in their ongoing education or future career. Connect with teens rather than simply being their adult monitor.
The upcoming, three-year Strategic Plan is all about putting and keeping teens first in our libraries. If you are interested in commenting on YALSA’s next Strategic Plan, please participate at: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/R7MMRSG
Todd Krueger is a Selector in the Collection Development department at Baltimore County Public Library in Towson, MD. He currently serves as YALSA’s Division Councilor.