cover of the teen services competencies for library staffA colleague and I recently had a debate. She said she thought a specific library was progressive and I disagreed. Why? Because as I see it the library she was talking about isn’t progressive as a system. There are a couple of staff that manage programs that are certainly progressive, but the library overall, not so much.

I think this distinction is important to consider. Think about it, if we want teen services to be future and teens first focused – as defined by YALSA in recent reports, blog posts, and books – then we can’t simply assume that if a library has a few good programs led by awesome people that the whole institution is progressive, future focused, and teens first focused. Thinking about this I asked my colleague, “What happens if the people facilitating the progressive activities leave the library system? Would the library still be progressive in your mind?”

It’s become clear to me that systemic change is required for libraries to earn the label progressive. And, in thinking about this, I realized that the YALSA Teen Services Competencies for Library Staff provide a roadmap for setting benchmarks that help libraries – the whole library not just teen services – work towards the systemic change required. Consider these progressive library benchmarks and how the Competencies help one get there:

  • Staff schedules enable library staff to manage time so to be available to teens and the community flexibly and responsively. Staff aren’t tied to a building on a traditionally fixed schedule, such as having to staff a public area at specific times. If this fixed scheduling is in place it’s difficult for staff to build relationships and connect with teens and community members at convenient times and in locations that work best for those teens and community members.

    Staff schedules also must provide time for staff to plan and assess the projects they are already working on. Building great teen services takes time. It takes thoughtful planning. And it takes assessing what’s already available to determine what works, what doesn’t work, what needs to change, and so on.

    The Interactions with Teens and Community and Family Engagement content areas of the Teen Services Competencies lay out specifics about what’s required to achieve success in these areas. Consider how your and your colleagues’ schedules hinder or support what’s discussed in the Competencies.

  • Job descriptions need to support the work of future focused and teens first programs and services. These documents must specifically call out activities such as developing outcomes, planning programs and services, building relationships with community partners, working with colleagues on supporting the needs of teens, advocating for teens in the library and in the community, and spending time on professional learning.

    Job descriptions should also highlight an attitude that supports risk-taking, failure, iteration, and learning from mistakes. Staff and administrators should see in job description that trying things out to discover what works best for and with teens in a particular community is encouraged and expected.

    A previous YALSAblog post on the Teen Services Competencies discussed in a bit more detail the role job descriptions play in quality teen services. The Competencies areas Cultural Competence and Responsiveness and Outcomes and Assessment directly relate to job descriptions. Can you work on updating yours so to get started on systemic change?

  • Professional learning plans must be in place for each staff member. The plans must be based on gaps in skills and knowledge and not on personal interests. Learning plans must be regularly reviewed and updated to allow for ongoing development of library staff. (Check out YALSA’s report on “Transforming Library Services for and with Teens Through CE” for a sample learning plan template – Appendix D.) Take a look at the Continuous Learning content area of the Competencies to gather ideas on what’s required to build systems that support progressive library services. Then get started on your own learning plan and work with colleagues to help them do the same.
  • The YALSA “Transforming Library Services for and with Teens Through CE” report has a strong focus on the need for all library staff to be ready, willing, and able to work with and for teens. So too do all of the content areas in the YALSA Teen Services Competencies for Library staff. All library staff must:
    • Have a basic understanding of teen growth and development
    • Be culturally competent and able to interact successfully with all teens
    • Have knowledge of the outcomes that the library are working towards for and with teens
    • Support equity of access
    • Be continuously learning about teens and their needs
    • Support libraries as learning environments for adolescents.

    It’s perhaps a big ask of library staff, but really don’t teens deserve something that big?

The YALSA Teen Services Competencies for Library Staff are an important jumping off point for thinking about and moving forward with systemic change to support quality (and progressive) library services for and with teens. Take a look and think about how you can integrate the Competencies into moving forward with the systemic change required to truly wear the label Progressive Library.

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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