This post was based on my presentation at the ALA Annual Convention, What I Stopped Doing: Improving Services to Teens by Giving Things Up. Slides for the presentation can be found on Slideshare or HaikuDeck.

In order to do improve library service to teens, we have to work differently — and in order to do that, we have to stop doing some of what we’re currently doing.

From discussion at Annual and among colleagues in my personal network, this is a topic that resonated with large numbers of staff — not just the necessity of giving things up, but the importance of continuing to talk loudly and proudly about the things we stopped doing. In youth services this is especially important — often we are solo practitioners who were hired to work with a broad range of ages — 0-18 in some cases.

Discontinuing or re-assigning tasks and services is challenging, but it’s critical to improving library services to teens — and it’s an important leadership quality. While there is no one formula that will work for every library or community, when we’re ready to think about what we can stop doing, reflect again on YALSA’s Future of Library Services for and with Teens report – it sets a frame for the work that’s most important to consider discontinuing or doing differently.

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This is a guest post from Kelly Stade, Area Manager at the Hennepin County Library.

All leaders need support. Intentionally building your network can support you when you feel stuck, spark creativity and connect you with new opportunities.

As a private person, it can sometimes be difficult for me to ask for help. Networking within your library system, school or professional organization can feel challenging. I admire my colleagues who seem comfortable reaching out to a broad network of supporters. As I have pushed myself to build connections, it has been beneficial both for myself and the library where I work.

“What would you do?” moments. We have all run into situations where we feel stumped or puzzled. We also have moments where we feel confident, but would value a second opinion. Both are excellent opportunities to reach out to trusted peers. By the nature of being a leader, you try new things, push yourself, explore, and you extend beyond your comfort zone. When venturing into this new territory, it is only natural to have moments of uncertainty. Asking questions and asking for help demonstrates your confidence as a leader. The answers you get back will help you learn new skills and expand your perspective.

Even if you feel confident in your approach, reaching out for second opinions provides an opportunity to learn a diversity of styles. I love hearing how a single challenge can be approached from a number of different angles. The diversity of opinions challenges me to reframe and refine myself as a leader.

When putting myself in a vulnerable position of asking for help or for a second opinion, I can open the door to become a trusted support for others, repaying the favor.

“What are you up to?” moments. Creativity sparks creativity. The librarianship profession is one that rewards begging, borrowing and stealing. Need to develop a new summer program initiative or Teen Read Week promotion? Don’t reinvent the wheel. Reach out to your network to learn what other libraries are doing. The community or network you reach out to may live in-person or online.

Another benefit to building a network is that your network may lead you to new opportunities, like the opportunity to write on the YALSA blog.

Where can you start building your network? Look within your organization or neighboring libraries. Reach out to leaders in your organization who are doing work you admire. Do you know someone who seems to be well connected? Ask those well connected individuals to introduce you to a broader circle. You can also look within YALSA, ALA or your local library community. Join a committee, attend a conference or participate in professional opportunities. Intentionally build your network through professional leadership programs such as the PLA Leadership Academy or ALA Emerging Leader Program. I am fortunate to be a graduate of the 2014 ALA’s Emerging Leader program. Through the program, I was able to make strong connections to librarians across the country. It is exciting to learn from and share with librarians outside of my home state. As a leader, challenge yourself to ask for help and reach out the leaders around you. Making professional connections will not only benefit you, it will make our profession stronger.

Start small. The next time you feel stuck or in need for inspiration, intentionally connect with one new person. You will soon find that your efforts feel more natural and your network richly diverse.

Kelly Stade is an Area Manager for Hennepin County Library, with a background in Youth Services. She is passionate about leadership development and supporting others in active leadership. Connect with Kelly via LinkedIn.

A friend of mine just accepted a promotion. When I asked her why she accepted it and what she was looking forward to, she said, “I’m really looking forward to working for my new boss; I really respect him and he’s indicated he trusts me. But what he doesn’t know is that lots of time I don’t know what I’m doing.”

She said this jokingly, but it struck a chord with me as I’ve been in a new role in my library since January. On my first day, another colleague advised, “Fake it ‘till you make it!” Each day, I never really know exactly what to do or how to respond to dilemmas – but I have a plan, some strategies, some good instinct and I ask good questions. So far it’s working.

People have three psychological needs: autonomy — a perception that we have some choices that are ours to make; relatedness – a connection to something or someone – beyond ourselves; and competence — a feeling of effectiveness and success. We need these in our personal lives, and also in our workplaces.

One of the hardest things I’ve seen library staff (including myself) struggle with is when our own personal levels of competence are not where we want them to be–it’s true for everyone, but feels especially relevant in libraries, where we highly value our expertise and knowledge–and get to demonstrate it almost every day if we work directly with the public.
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Very few of us keep the same position for our entire careers. Often the best time to think about the next thing is when you still enjoy many aspects of your current work–and, ideally, before you become too frustrated or jaded.

For those of us who work with teens, it can be hard to think about a promotion, because often that promotion means we won’t work directly with young people anymore. Even when we move into new roles, however, we can continue to advocate for teen services – and in many ways may be more effective in our new role than we were in our previous role. Advocacy is telling the story about how our library serves teens — and how we can do it better, and asking for the resources, partnerships and support young people need from libraries and the community. The ways we do that are different depending on our role in the library, but we need teen services supporters at every level.
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So you’ve figured out how to prioritize your work, be an awesome team member and lead from wherever you are in your organization. Now you’re ready to be in charge of something. There are a lot of things to coordinate in the library — managing a small purchase from your Friends of the Library group, spending some grant funds, chairing an internal committee or pulling off a larger project.

You may not have a lot of experience in the area you’re newly in charge of, but often that’s the best place to start — your experience and preconceived notions won’t get in your way. Here are some places to start when you’re put in charge of something:

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One of the best ways to strengthen your leadership skills is to be on a team, project or committee, in your library, school or community. Teams come together for lots of reasons and their charges and scope can vary greatly — from non-existent to very specific.

Even if you’re not the team leader or chair, there are a lot of things you can do to help your team be more effective.

1.Identify a clear purpose or charge. If one hasn’t been provided for you, how can you and the team create something more specific and then accomplish it?

2. Include a range of voices. Teams with a broad diversity of thought and experiences are better at discovering a wide variety of approaches and tools, which help in tackling complicated issues or dilemmas an identifying better solutions. Focus the team’s energy, at least at first, on something within their scope, so they can get some early wins and be more successful in the future.

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If you’re working with teens in a library – any kind of library — you should be a leader. Being a leader doesn’t have to mean you’re the boss – or that you ever want to be the boss, but it takes intentionality and may mean thinking about your role in serving teens a bit differently. Level Up Your Leadership Skills is a regular feature on leadership topics for staff working with teens.

We all have a lot on our plates. Working the desk, doing outreach and working directly with teens are all important parts of our work. Depending on our role, we may not have direct control over our schedule or exactly how we manage our own time.

But we often have control over how we spend at least some of our time — so how can we decide what to prioritize within the many possible tasks we could be doing or new projects we could be starting?

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If you’re working with teens in a library – any kind of library — you should be a leader. Being a leader doesn’t have to mean you’re the boss – or that you ever want to be the boss, but it takes intentionality and may mean thinking about your role in serving teens a bit differently.

Leaders see talent: Did you just see a colleague do a great job of helping a teen get a new library card? Make sure to let him know — and if it was really fabulous, maybe you should let his boss know, too? Do you have a colleague who made a really good point in a staff meeting — make sure you let her know! If you see a library staff member that’s a natural with teens, how can you involve them in your work?

Leaders share the credit: When your program was successful, publicly thank your colleagues who helped make it possible by setting up the chairs, cleaning up the rug and issuing all the library cards.

Leaders have goals: So much of public service is reactive — you never know what question or situation will present itself. Compensate for that by planning and goal-setting for other parts of your work– identifying your goals and making a plan for working with schools this fall, for example, or your goals for your precious two hours of off-desk time tomorrow.

Leaders ask around: What’s your first thought when faced with a challenge or something you don’t know how to do? Before asking your supervisor, talk with your colleagues– at your library or other libraries — what are they doing? Have they faced this before? What advice to they have for you? A colleague in a school who had recently gone to a 1:1 mobile device program told me their philosophy in helping kids with their devices is now: “Ask three, then ask me,” meaning kids should talk to each other to problem-solve — if they’ve asked three peers and still nobody knows, then they can ask the teacher (By the way, that colleague said it was much harder for the teachers to follow the same rule than it was for the students).

Other resources that may be of interest about leadership and management include

Sarah Flower’s YALSA blog series from 2013, “What Your Manager Wishes You Knew,” and YALSA’s Competencies for Librarians Serving Youth.

Level Up Your Leadership Skills will be a regular feature on the YALSA blog, designed to provide practical support for library staff in strengthening existing leadership skills. In what other ways are you leading in your library? In what areas do you need more resources?

YALSA’s Future of Library Services for and with Teens report highlights “partnering strategically to reach beyond the library’s walls” as one of the five fundamental elements that will need to shift in order for libraries and communities to successfully work for and with teens” (p. 21-24).

On the YALSA Board agenda for discussion at Annual is a proposal to discuss what resources would be most helpful to members in this area – is it best practices document, a toolkit, coaching or something else entirely?

You can read the full proposal when the Board documents go online next week.

Please share your thoughts with me, Maureen Hartman or on twitter: mlhartman, YALSA President Shannon Peterson or any other Board member via e-mail or twitter so we can respond with the best solution for members.

Connected Learning is a phrase for something teen librarians have known about for a long time and for something that is probably already happening in our libraries. Our libraries may be supporting or leading an interest-based program, but it’s even more likely that teens are pursuing their passions in the library right this second by playing Minecraft on the computers, watching videos on YouTube, or doing something else of their own choosing in the library’s space.

When we notice what they’re doing, we have a few choices.

  1. Leave them alone
  2. Create a library-sponsored club or program in which teens can pursue their passions

Leaving them completely alone doesn’t support the kind of relationships we need to be successful in working with teens, what if we didn’t create a program right away?

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