As a young librarian, it can be difficult to find your footing. After receiving my degree and being a teen services librarian for a little over a year, I was thrilled to embark on the journey to Louisville in early November for this year’s YALSA Symposium, made possible by YALSA’s travel stipend. I was expecting a weekend full of information and new ideas, but I wasn’t expecting to come home with a new outlook on teen services and a reinvigorated passion for my job, which is exactly what happened!

Teens often feel like no one understands or cares about them, and I hear

this often from the teens that frequent my library. At the Symposium I realized that bringing them into the library wasn’t enough – I had to build a community of teens that supported one another and could make changes within their own communities, as adults are separate from the lives of teens in so many ways. Nearly every session I attended in Louisville focused on communities in some way, through either building a community of teens or drawing the surrounding community into the library through partnerships and local resources.

In The Five Laws of Library Programs for and with Teens, programming was viewed through the lens of Raganathan’s Laws of Library Science. Many of the points brought up during this session emphasized building a community of teens, from stating that programs are opportunities for socialization and building bonds, to prioritizing inclusivity and making everyone feel welcome. Instead of counting the number of bodies in the room, we should be measuring the level of teen engagement and redefining what success means for teen programming. By taking teen suggestions seriously and giving programs a practical takeaway, among other things, we can help teens grow individually and as a community of peers and friends.

The thread of community continued into Interactive Teen Lit by discussing multiple different types of teen groups that we serve, including neurodivergent teens, LGBTQ+ teens, and those across the cultural and religious spectrum. The phrase that has stayed with me is ‘who isn’t being discussed’? It’s easy to stay concerned with only the teens that come into the library, but this made me think: Why aren’t other teens coming in? What needs are in my community that aren’t being met that could be met at the library? These are difficult but important questions as we move forward in creating positive teen communities.

Another session that inspired me was Leave No Teen Behind: A Teen Driven Mental Health Initiative. Many adolescents struggle with mental health disorders and many of them have no idea that they’re suffering. Having information available to help teens identify mental health disorders and directing them to the proper resources helps to bridge an income divide that is a real issue in my community and many others. There are so many resources, nationally and locally, that are available at low to no cost to help struggling teens, and making them aware of these essential programs allows them to find help and become strong members of the community.

During Filling the Leaky STEM Pipeline, connected learning was described as ‘everything all at once’, and it inspired me to consider the idea of “learning” in a more flexible manner. Connected Learning as defined in the Future’s Report is learning that is socially embedded, interest-driven, and oriented towards educational, economic, or political opportunity. Creating a space that is equitable, social, and participatory has been on my mind ever since. Helping the teens to see one another as equal peers, regardless of economic status and upbringing, is a change that happens on an individual basis and can be spearheaded by library staff. Teens trust us as responsible adults in their lives, and guiding them to use the right words and change their perspective to a more empathetic mindset is one of the best things that we can do for them.

I see my job differently after attending this year’s YALSA Symposium. Sure, I still love planning fun programs, ordering great teen books, and interacting with teens. But I now see the true task of library staff: building a community of diverse and empathetic teens that will become the shapers of our local communities and our world. It’s a heavy weight to bear, but after experiencing the energy and passion of hundreds of library staff dedicated to teen services, I feel up to the challenge.

Travel stipend applications for the 2018 Symposium in Salt Lake City, UT, Nov. 2 – 4, are being accepted now through June 1st.  One will be given to a student, and one to a library worker.

Ashley Meece is the Teen Services Librarian at the Tiffin-Seneca Public Library in Tiffin, Ohio. She has worked in libraries for over 8 years and earned her MLIS degree from Kent State University in 2016.

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