cover of teen services competencies for library staffFor over a year I’ve been thinking a lot about libraries and social emotional learning (SEL). In part because many school systems are developing curriculum (or integrating SEL into curriculum), in part because it’s something that library activities support – even if library staff don’t think of what they do in that way, and in part because the new Teen Services Competencies of Library Staff include Dispositions and Content Areas that strongly connect to SEL.

The most recent edition of the Future of Children journal notes, in the introduction to the issue:

Researchers, educators, and policymakers alike have trouble pinning down exactly what’s included in this broad domain—and what isn’t. The popular press has highlighted a wide array of skills, such as grit, empathy, growth mindset, social skills, and more. At its core, SEL involves children’s ability to learn about and manage their own emotions and interactions in ways that benefit themselves and others, and that help children and youth succeed in schooling, the workplace, relationships, and citizenship.”

Think about that. Wouldn’t you say. that in order for youth to gain SEL skills they need adults in their lives who help them to “learn about and manage their own emotions and interactions in ways that benefit themselves and others, and that help children and youth succeed in schooling, the workplace, relationships, and citizenship?” These adults include library staff and teachers along with family members, caregivers, community members and so on.

When looking at the Teen Services Competencies for Library Staff take a look at the Dispositions listed and consider which relate to SEL. For example:

  • “Shows warmth, caring, and respect for all teens and their families” is a disposition that gets to the heart of managing emotions and interactions. When teens have the opportunity to connect with adults that show warmth, caring, and respect they see first hand how valuable it is to be respectful and caring of others.
  • “Recognizes and respects the diversity of teens and their families, and understands this diversity impacts all areas of practice.” Library staff are perfect role models in demonstrating to teens that all members of the community need to be welcomed and encouraged to take part in library activities and services.
  • “Values creativity and imagination in learning, and promotes those attributes in teens and in themselves.” In order for teens to succeed in school, work, and relationships they need to be open to different ways of doing things and have opportunities to imagine and be creative. For this to happen, library staff need to have the mindset that is open to teens in this way.

Those are just three of the 13 Dispositions in the Competencies and I bet if you were to go through each one you would be able to connect all 13 to the overview above of what SEL is.

It’s not just the Dispositions that speak to the ways in which library staff need to support SEL with and for teens. The skill and knowledge Content Areas strongly connect as well. For example:

  • Content Area 5, Youth Engagement and Leadership, includes in the Developing Level: “Fosters teens’ critical thinking, goal setting, problem solving, conflict management, decision making, and other important life skills.” Don’t all of these areas in which library staff need to demonstrate skills relate direction to teens and SEL?
  • Content Area 6: Community and Family Engagement includes in the Developing Level: “Fosters an asset-based lens to understand the larger community context within which teens and their families live and to identify potential community partners.” Focusing on teen assets, and not deficits, helps to setup an environment in which teens feel respected and trusted. Library staff that have the skills to build that throughout the community for and with teens have a great impact on youth’s SEL development.
  • Content Area 8: Cultural Competency and Responsiveness includes in the Practicing Level: “Builds relationships with culturally specific organizations and other relevant community partners to improve and expand library services.” Through the relationships that library staff build, teens will have access to a host of services and resources that enable them to connect with role models and learning experiences that will certainly provide opportunities to gain SEL skills within a cultural responsive framework and environment.

These are just three of the 10 Competencies, I think if you review the three with SEL in mind you’ll see many other areas where connections exist. As the article, SEL in Afterschool Programs, (In that same issue of Future of Children) states:

“After-school programs offer young people opportunities for self-expression, exploring their talents, and forming relationships with supportive adults. That is, after-school programs promote young people’s social and emotional learning (SEL) skills—whether the programs use that term or not.”

I suggest that school and public libraries don’t regularly use the term SEL, but as the Teen Services Competencies for Library Staff demonstrate, there is a lot of SEL that is a part of the work of all library staff.

Learn more about the Teen Services Competencies for Library Staff and upcoming free webinars on each of the Content Areas.

About Linda W Braun

Linda W Braun is a YALSA Past President, the YALSA CE Consultant, and a learning consultant/project management coordinator at LEO: Librarians & Educators Online.

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