Now that school is out, it’s time to discuss with our teens about the value of healthy habits and lifestyles. When we talk about healthy habits, we need to think beyond physical fitness and focus on all aspects of healthy living which includes the mind, body, and soul. With the new YALSA Organizational Plan in place, we now have a framework to take these concepts to our teens and ask them what they would like to see in the library and how we (staff and patrons) can successfully develop these ideas.

One important that libraries need to consider is to implement, or increase, programs and/or services to help teens develop a positive sense of well-being in order to navigate this chaotic world. As the organization plan brilliantly states “Today’s adolescents’ face an expanding array of social issues that place them at physical and psychological risk, and libraries can help. Libraries can contribute to solving and alleviating the issues and problems that negatively impact teens, and can put more teens on the path to a successful and fulfilling life.” Although this concept is not new to us, the big question is how do we develop solid services that will get teens into the library? The best place to start is to consult our core group of teens who either volunteer, are part of our advisory groups, and teens who do, and do not, participate in library programs.

When we ask teens about what they would like to see in the library it’s important to provide options. In other words, we need to break down what we mean by a “positive sense of well-being” which is basically what can the library do to promote healthy lifestyles in regards to the mind, body, and soul. Whether it’s about offering meditation workshops, reading buddy programs, gaming programs, dance classes, arts and crafts workshop, and/or buying books and audiovisual materials for self-improvement,  we want to encourage teens to tell us what would bring them to the library. If we don’t have a core group of teens who visit the library, pose this question during outreaches or via social media. As teen library staff, we must take advantage of every opportunity we can to communicate with teens even if it’s not library-related. Lastly, if teens still can’t decide on what they would like to do, bring in your community partners to talk more about the importance of good eating habits, mental health, and civic engagement. When teens have a better understanding of what it is we are trying to do, let’s bring in professionals to guide the decision-making process. When the teens have given us the feedback we need, we can move forward with these services as they are relevant and distinct to our teen communities.

The next phase, which is often the most difficult, is to motivate teens to commit to building these ideas with our guidance. Teens are very capable of providing tons of suggestions, but we need to narrow down the number of ideas or simplify them in order to have a complete product. If their ideas have more than one facet, it may be a good idea to have the group split into sub-committees where they can focus on the aspects that interest them the most. By allowing teens the opportunity to build new services, they are not only learning real world lessons (i.e., group work, deadlines, accountability, leadership,etc.) they are creating something that, again, is relevant to their needs and development. Furthermore, by stepping back, and observing this process, we have the chance to re-evaluate how we create our own services and programs as well; by letting go of “the reins” teens and library staff will have a better idea of what it means collaborate. If teens see how vested we are in their growth, they will want to be a part of journey, which is why it’s important to always ask for their input.

So how do we really get teens fit, happy, and healthy? We show them we care about them by recognizing their voices and opinions matter to us. More importantly, we are going to need their help in building these resources as teen services is evolving. By encouraging our teens to get involve, it will not only instill a sense of purpose, but their ideas and their influence will bring other teens into our buildings where they, collectively, learn what it means to build community and to care for one another. This is what teen services is really about and I am so excited to see where this takes our profession.

About Deborah Takahashi

Deborah Takahashi is a Senior Librarian for the Monterey Park Bruggemeyer Library. Deborah has been working with teens and children for seventeen years and loves every minute. Deborah is also the author of "Serving Teens with Mental Illness at the Library: A Practical Guide."

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