This post written by Carrie Sanders, Youth Services Coordinator, Maryland State Library.

At the beginning of the month, I journeyed to Louisville, KY for the annual YALSA Symposium. I heard vibrant authors and teen services librarians discussing current literature written to meet the needs and interests of today’s teens, and I learned about serving teens with disabilities, social action programming, and strong teen volunteer programs. At the end of these very full days, my brain took a breather on Sunday afternoon, and then it went into full gear on Monday-Tuesday, November 6-7, during the YALSA National Forum.

photo of participants in the YALSA ForumWhat was the purpose of this Forum? Under the theme “Transforming Teen Services Through Continuing Education”, YALSA and COSLA, through a grant funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), gathered representatives from 45 states, along with YALSA Advisory Committee members and other facilitators, to align library teen services with current societal and learning trends of this age group. We gave equal attention to the “what and the how” of Continuing Education (CE) for library staff: what should today’s content be in our teen programming? — and how should this CE be delivered to library staff so that our public library programming and services, nationally, meet the identified emotional, social, and learning needs of today’s teens? Big questions for us to tackle in a day and a half! We listened to a variety of experienced colleagues with experiences and research to share; we looked at national trends and research about the social/emotional needs of teens and their learning styles; we discussed what we are doing in our states; and we asked questions throughout the Forum that bubbled up from our learning. YALSA will take information gained at the meeting to continue developing a national agenda for supporting professional learning needs of library staff working with teens. And, the state representatives attending the Forum, will take back the findings and discussion from our time together and start implementing, through communications and trainings, some of the learnings from the event.

photo of Sandra Hughes Hassell presenting at the YALSA ForumSandra Hughes-Hassell, YALSA President and Associate Professor, School of Library and Information Science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) opened the Forum noting key paradigm shifts that need to happen in teen services, in response to YALSA’s IMLS-funded report, “The Future of Library Services for and with Teens: A Call to Action.” The shifts include:

  • Library services to teens need to be “Teen-centric” – not “library-centric.” Library staff need to put teens first; we need to reach ALL teens in our communities (not just the readers). Today, 48% of our total youth population are teens of color – our services need to reach the marginalized teens in our community. Our services should focus on the person or the process — not the “stuff” or the product.
  • Amplify Teen voice. Library staff should involve teens in the development and implementation of their programs, and they should be the ones to identify social issues in the community. Involving teens in this way is not “giving them a voice” because they already have one. Rather, including them in the planning of teen programs centers their voice.
  • Broaden literacies. Work skills have changed, but skills taught in school are not mirroring these changes. Library staff needs to go beyond book clubs and specific events by focusing on learning in teen programming. Learning should include multiple literacies and include aspects of connected learning: student choice; collaborative, social learning; self-directed learning; authentic audience; maximizing use of technology (producers, not just users). These learning experiences created by and for teens is purposeful and centered on relevant issues. It often includes service learning.
  • Community Engagement (not just outreach) by library staff to reach teens. Library staff need to strive to be the connector between teens and community agencies to help meet their needs.
  • Collaborative Learning. No one is the expert. We learn together. CE for library staff serving teens should include Peer-mentoring, intentional planning, and assessments that emphasize outcomes over outputs.

Peter Kirschman (Learning Designer at the MIT Teaching Systems Lab) emphasized four important “P’s” to remember in teen programming that are hallmarks of informal educational experiences: Projects – Peers – Passion – Play. (Taken from Mitch Resnick’s book Lifelong Kindergarten: Cultivating Creativity through Projects, Passion, Peers, and Play.) With academic rigors that include standardized testing, complex standards, and dense content, today’s teens have little opportunity to experiment, explore, and try different solutions in their learning. This instructional experimentation can be summarized in the acronym FAIL: First Attempt at Learning. We are in a unique position in our public library teen programming to provide these invaluable learning experiences for our teens.

group presenting competency ideas photo from YALSA forumYALSA’s Teen Services Competencies. for Library Staff were reviewed at the Forum as a new, formal document from YALSA. The Teen Services Competencies provide the foundation for quality service to today’s teens as well as a guidepost to pre-service educational programs, program assessment, hiring expectations, and professional development for all library staff working with Teens. The document provides three levels to assess the success in reaching these competencies: Developing, Practicing, Transforming. The Ten Competencies are: Teen Growth and Development; Interactions with Teens; Learning Environments; Learning Experiences; Youth Engagement and Leadership; Community and Family Engagement; Cultural Competency and Responsiveness; Equity of Access; Outcomes and Assessment; Continuous Learning.

During the Forum, specific programs that exemplify successful merging of today’s teens’ social/emotional needs and learning modalities were shared and discussed, including the Green Dot Program, the University of Maryland YX program, out-of-school programs, and specific projects that enable libraries to collaborate with their community partners to serve the teens they share.

We spent much time looking at different CE models so that library staff can best understand these paradigm shifts in teen services and reach these goals in teen programming.

photo of wonder wall at the YALSA ForumAs the Forum drew to a close at mid-day Tuesday, we discussed next steps for all of us as we returned to our states and our work with library staff who provide library services for and with teens. The walls of our meeting room were full of post-it notes declaring our ideas for implementation. Ideas that participants had for continued work include:

  • Share a synopsis of the Forum with State Agency colleagues
  • Present these findings at state annual conferences
  • Provide training of “2017 YALSA Teen Take-aways” to Youth Service Coordinators around the state
  • Share provided Case Studies: Real World Examples of How Libraries are Re-Envisioning Teen Services and accompanying cumulative observations in this document with YSC
  • Create MD “Teen Teams” of librarians trained and prepared to peer-coach other systems’ staff in best practices and CE approaches for Teen Services, as identified in this Forum.
  • Hold a Teen Summit in the state, bringing stakeholders together to discuss teen needs and CE best practices

We concluded the Forum with lots of hugs and motivation to move this work forward in our home states. Library staff who work with and for teens know the energy, passion, and interests that drive them in their exploration of themselves and the world around them as they find their place as young adults. Forum attendees are excited to share our new learning and ideas with our colleagues to maximize libraries’ potential to meet the needs, energy, and passion of our teens. Stay tuned for follow-ups from all involved about moving forward with transforming teen services through CE.

Good things are going to come to our teens as a result of this Forum!

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