What, did you read that subject correctly? Can it really be true? You are supposed to think about teen library services in the 22nd century when you haven’t yet made it past the first decade of the 21st century? Well, maybe not really 22nd century library services, but if you let yourself think past today, tomorrow, next month, and maybe the next 4 months, it should be easier to prepare yourself and your library for the world of 2010 and 2100.

What is important to think about in preparing yourself and your library for the future of library services to teens? Consider:

  • Customization: Teens are more and more used to being able to set the parameters around how they use programs and services in all environments, including shopping, social networking, entertainment, and research. Libraries that serve teens effectively need to find ways to make physical and virtual programs and services customizable. That means customization in the same way that Facebook (and other social networking sites) provide customizable content. And it means customization in a more traditional sense, for example the ability to use library space for a wide-variety of purposes and needs.
  • Access: OK, access is a word that gets thrown around a lot in libraries, but think about it in terms of the ways in which teens need and want to access programs and services. It means providing teens with the ability to create a widget that guarantees easy connections to research information on a specific topic. It means easily downloading content from the library to a teen’s handheld device. It means teen librarians make themselves available in environments outside of the physical library space – Teen Second Life for example. All of these are examples of access that demonstrates a willingness to go to where teens are instead of requiring teens to come to where the librarian is. That’s key to access in 2007, and will certainly continue to be key in 2010 and beyond.
  • Going Beta: In order to support teens informational, recreational, and developmental needs, librarians have to be able to test things out in beta format. By testing and revising, and by being willing to go beta, teen librarians demonstrate to the community -adults and teens – that the library wants to make sure they’ve come up with the best way to provide service. Beta also demonstrates that feedback on services, before they are finalized, is important. Launching something in beta and saying to teens, let us know what you like and don’t like about this, works to improve service. Instead of talking and testing only among fellow librarians, go beta and find out what really works and doesn’t work from the people who are going to actually use the program or service under development.
  • Nimbleness & Flexibility: While it’s not always possible to get an idea today and make it happen tomorrow, librarians do need to find ways to break through bureaucratic processes in order to give/get teens what they want when they want it. IM, text messaging, VOIP, RSS feeds, downloadable video and audio, and the ability to upload and distribute content make quick and easy access – at least at times – a necessity. Waiting for the perfect solution isn’t a solution. The solution is to act quickly – taking things slowly often means missing the opportunity to actually provide the service needed.

Of course it’s not really possible to figure out what library service will look like in 2100. However, if methods of service that support customization, access, beta testing, and nimbleness and flexibility are implemented, libraries have a good chance of being able to serve teens in 2010 (and perhaps even in 2100) in the way teens need and want to be served.

About the Scholarship:
YALSA, through an ALA Ahead to 2010 grant, will be funding one ALA Spectrum Scholar for the 2008 year who is interested in pursuing a career in young adult librarianship or secondary school librarianship. Spectrum Scholars receive a $5,000 scholarship towards the completion of a master’s degree in library science. The deadline to apply is March 1, 2008.

Spectrum’s major drive is to recruit applicants and award scholarships to American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian, Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino or Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander students. Spectrum/YALSA will provide a one-year $5,000 scholarship and over $1,500 in professional development opportunities to one eligible student planning to attend an ALA-accredited graduate program in library and information studies or an ALA-recognized NCATE School Library Media program for the purpose of securing a job in a public or school library that serves teens.

To be eligible for a Spectrum Scholarship:
•Applicant must be a citizen or permanent resident of the U.S. or Canada.
•Applicant must be American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian, Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino or Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander.
•Applicant must attend an ALA-accredited graduate program in library and information studies or an ALA-recognized NCATE School Library Media program.
•Applicant shall have completed no more than a third of the credit requirements toward her/his MLIS or school library media degree at the time of award, June 1st.
•Applicant must be enrolled in an accredited program and begin school no later than September 1st or the Fall Semester immediately following the award.

•Applicants may have full or part time status.

The deadline to apply is March 1, 2008. Apply today via the online form.

For Additional Information:
To learn more about the Spectrum Scholar program, please visit the Spectrum web site.
Please direct questions to Gwendolyn Prellwitz, Program Officer, ALA Office for Diversity & Spectrum, by emailing spectrum@ala.org or calling 1-800-545-2433 ext. 5048.

A few hours ago I received an email from a library school student that included the following:

I’m on the board of our small public library – we were doing a goal setting exercise – I brought up enticing more teenagers to use this library (they don’t). I could not believe the negative reaction that I got – It was a why do we need that generation here kind of reaction.”

Every time I hear a story like this I feel so sad. Every day I am reminded of the great progress we’ve made in guaranteeing that teens are supported in their libraries. But, then again, at least once a week I’m reminded of how far we have to go.

I ask myself, how does a community get to the point where they think that it’s OK to say no to teens in the library? I wonder, how did some libraries get to the point where they think if they say no to teens today when those same teens become adults they will come back to the library? (By the way, those teens should never return to any library that treats them that way.)

If you encounter a library, librarian, or community member who thinks it’s OK to say no to teens, what can you say to turn things around? Will it work to:

  • Explain that the teen is a future taxpayer and that it’s important to serve the teen today so they will vote for your budget tomorrow?
  • Talk about the developmental assets and the role libraries play in helping teens grow-up successfully?
  • Focus on the library as a place where teens can learn how to use technology tools in positive ways so they know how to be smart and safe while online?
  • Reflect on the ways in which libraries can serve teens through youth participation programs?

These are of course just a few of the ways to help circumvent the negative attitudes that sometimes still exist when it comes to teen services in libraries. If you have other ideas or best practice suggestions, submit a comment for this post.

As I saw the influx of requests for removal from ya-music listserv I couldn’t help but be curious why people are leaving such a lovely list when it becomes active? The real answer probably is that they just signed up for everything YALSA related to see what it was, and now either don’t work with teens or aren’t interested in music/technology discussions related to teens.

However for a brief moment I couldn’t help think that just maybe its because we all really want to subscribe to something that does nothing because tons of email is scary. Which strangely brought me to another point: Where do all of the librarians who are uncomfortable with technology find support? I know we have blogs, podcasts, videos, listservs, and other staff at our libraries to support us often, but if you are young or a teen librarian everyone seems to think you know everything about computers. I recently overheard a computer tutoring session between a 28 year old computer expert and a teen boy. They discussed basics for all the functions of the mouse, how to use shortcut keys, and the concept that scrolling down the page means you are moving your view down, not moving the document up.

Listservs were scary for me when I first subscribed to them. I was getting 20+ emails a day, and I felt like I had to read ever single one in case I missed the very important gem of information. At the time I was using Outlook, who does have the option to create folders, which I used, but really didn’t meet my email needs. Later I found gmail, which allows me to tag my email, search for a word used in any message, and most importantly groups replies to messages together, Which meant the listservs I subscribe too started taking less time to read, and I developed the comfort level to not read every message because when I need that information I can do a search.

But on a more basic level, for everyone who is still feeling overwhelmed by technology there are different options to help relieve your stress.

  1. Don’t worry if you don’t know the answer. Most of the time if you have a tech savy teen you can figure it out together building the teens self confidence.
  2. Attend a conference and sit in on sessions related to technology, and not just technology related to YA’s but also just technology in the library in general.
  3. Don’t try to do everything, but focus on one thing you are interested in and play with it, whether it be email, blogging, IM or something else.
  4. Knowing where to find the answer is more important than having the answer, so know where the libraries resources are on what you’re uncomfortable with, and if you don’t have them consider why not because even in middle school and high school not everyone is tech savvy.
  5. Consider getting Visual Quickstart guides for topics you are uncomfortable with, I’ve found those to be more helpful than the for dummies series.
  6. Most importantly don’t be afraid to ask questions, especially online. I know my fellow YALSA bloggers and I want everyone to be comfortable with serving teens especially through technology.

I’m sure my fellow bloggers will have more pointers for you, but hopefully this will get you started. 😀

I wanted to be a teen librarian so I could empower teens to find themselves and be comfortable with who they are. Recently, a table and computer was set up for me in my library’s teen area so that I could be where the teens are. I assumed that my questions would be mostly about what book to read next, help me with my homework assignment, or something else that pulled on my knowledge of their world.

Its not that way. I spend most of my time listening. I have parents who are worried about the gaming habits of their teens, or twenty somethings that want the opportunity to talk about their favorite comics and hold debates about the different between manga and traditional comics. I have teens who are more excited to recommend a book for me to read than to listen to my recommendations, and I’m amazed that I can serve by just having conversations.

So when you feel overwhelmed by the amount of new books published, or new trends in not only teen culture but library culture, remember that the best thing you can ever do is talk to you patrons and take the time to listen.

There is a generation gap between experienced librarians and the teens we serve. Most of us know this, and thus shape our services based on what the teens request.
But what happens when the only teens requesting services are the ones who already see the library as a out dated warehouse for books? The things they request are based on what they think is appropriate for the library, and in reaction to how supportive their community is of their interests.

Here are some things you can do reach teens who don’t normally use your system:

  • If you do school visits, don’t just talk to the teens but ask them questions and listen to what they have to say.
  • Partner with other organizations in your community that teens love to hang out at.
  • Or just look at what places in your community teens often hang out at, and try to make your library more like those environments
  • Advertise what you are doing at the library in the places where your teens are
  • Have a website where teens can add content from comments on blogs to regular polls.
  • Give teens examples of what other libraries are doing when you talk to them so they have ideas for what’s possible

I hope these tips help libraries who are developing teen services. For those with successful teen services I encourage you to post comment with any other great ideas you have 😀

A library school student I know, who is interested in working in academic libraries, recently sent me an email that included several provocative questions and reflections including:

  • …so I’m sitting here thinking that really gaming doesn’t mean much for academic librarians, until I realize that the young kids using games, cell phones, text or IM in third grade are eventually going to go to college. And what will academic librarians have as a weapon — Facebook???
  • A thought I recently had was that librarians shouldn’t just be some people sitting at a reference desk directing informational traffic. We should be collaborating with students, and yet all of these information literacy classes seem so twentieth century 😉 How do we create an environment that encourages learning AND interaction while also maintaining the relevancy of the library

These definitely aren’t questions that relate only to librarians in academic settings. They speak directly to what happens in public and school library teen services. What are the “weapons” that we use to support the needs of the digital native teens that we serve? Lots of libraries have Facebook or MySpace accounts but is that enough? Do we stop there? Do we consider Facebook and/or MySpace as the only way that we have to connect to teens via the media many of them respond to?

And, if we are going whole hog into integrating the tools of digital natives into teen programs and services, do we have to consider the need to balance the new with the traditional? When do we stop thinking that we have to live in both worlds? Who are we living in both worlds for? The teens, fellow staff, administrators, parents? Can we focus on the teens and create an environment that makes the library relevant because it is focused on the contemporary over the traditional? Do we want to?

Receiving these kinds of emails is invigorating because it demonstrates that librarians going into the field are thinking about moving libraries forward into sometimes new, and sometimes a bit scary, realms. Receiving these emails often opens up more questions rather than helps to answer them. But, don’t we constantly have to be asking questions of ourselves, our libraries, and our teens in order to guarantee we are providing the best service possible? (Of course that was another question.)

A few weeks ago I went to the Apple Store on 5th Avenue in NYC, with a couple of friends, at about 8:30 PM on a Friday night. We went to the store to actually look for something specific. Within a few minutes we realized a purchase wasn’t going to happen. That didn’t mean we left the store however. We actually ended up staying in the store for at least 30 minutes. What were we doing? People watching.

Crowds at Apple StoreI took pictures during our people watching because I found what we were seeing so fascinating. The store was packed. (Remember it was 8:30 PM on a Friday night.) The people in the store weren’t actually there to buy things. Instead it was pretty obvious that the people there were actually hanging out – using computers, waiting to use computers, checking out products, etc. The people in the store were a variety of ages and types. 20somethings, 30somethings, 40somethings, 50somethings, 60somethings (and probably younger and older) were definitely represented.

Ever since I was at the Apple Store I’ve been looking at the pictures that I took and thinking about what I saw. I’ve been asking myself:

  • Why was the store packed on a Friday night?
  • What is it about the store atmosphere that makes being there comfortable?
  • What is it about the store atmosphere that makes people feel like they can hang out without buying?
  • What is it about the store that brings in people of all different ages?

Do I have answers? Some, and I do think that those of us working with teens need to think about the questions along with some others and consider the implications for space and service. We need to think about the non-library environments that are appealing to teens and what the appeal is. We need to think how we might partner with these environments in order to connect with teens.

The Apple Store is perhaps a good example of what people are looking for in a public space where they purchase (or in the case of a library borrow) something. The Apple Store is obviously about selling product, but it is also about creating a brand identity and a sense of personal identity that people who use the brand take on. How do we create that kind of identity for libraries and connect that identity to teens?

I’m also thinking about the results from the Harris Interactive Poll that were released a couple of weeks ago in relation to my Apple Store visit. In that poll teens reported that they visit the library primarily to pick up materials. They don’t necessarily hangout. They go in and out. If the Apple Store can get people to do more than run in and out for a particular purpose, can’t we?

A few weeks ago someone I follow on Twitter tweeted something like – this is a paraphrase – “I’m talking about Twitter in a workshop and people aren’t getting it. Is it an age thing?” Immediately I sent a reply that said, “Not an age thing but a mindset thing.”

This “mindset thing” is something I’ve been pondering quite a bit in relation to teen services. Librarians and library school students are always asking me, “Do I have to dress like a teen, look like a teen, act a certain way, be young in order to work with teens?” The answer is always pretty much the same and it goes something like this, “It’s not about how you look it’s about your mindset. If you are willing to listen to teens and show an interest in what they are interested in then teens will respect you – just like you respect them – and they will talk with you about their needs and interests.”

Age has nothing to do with an ability to work with teens or an ability to grasp how technology can fit into teen services. I know plenty of 20something librarians who aren’t going to be good teen librarians and I know plenty of 20something librarians who aren’t interested – at all – in technology and how it can help to improve library services. On the other hand, I know many 40 year old + librarians who are going to be or are great teen librarians. I know many 40 year old + librarians who are all over technology and doing some pretty amazing things with teens on integrating technology into the programs and services they provide.

The thing is that we all have to have the right mindset in order to succeed in whatever job it is that we do. If it’s a job working with teens then we have to be open to looking at the technology they use, and might be using, and consider openly what its implications are for work with the age group. It’s not about liking the technology but it is about putting dislikes aside and being willing to have an open mind to what teens see in technology and how they use it.

If working with teens you do have to like the age group and you have to be open to what they are interested in and be willing to listen and talk to teens as real people.

Keep an open mind as you plan and implement services for teens – no matter what form those services might take – and your age (whether it’s 20, 30, 40, 50, or more) won’t make any difference at all.

I’m returning from the Games Learning and Libraries Symposium sponsered by ALA techsource, and organized by the amazing Jenny Levine.

Many of the presentations focused on having gaming programs, and integrating gaming into current services. In many of the sessions I attended presenters would mention that they advocate teen services to their staff as well as community in an effort to help the entire library staff be on board with the innovation that teens need. I’ve seen so many libraries have great success with everyone on board, but what I’ve really seen lacking is projects to make our catalogs effective for the needs of teens. Currently at my library acquisitions is discussing where to store Anime. Right now its in three different sections: Family, Special Interest, and Sci/Fi. They don’t have a common subject heading so it can be difficult to get a feel for what Anime we have at our library.

I’ve noticed as well that gaming is also a topic that has cataloging issues. Since games don’t have ISBNs it makes it difficult to fit into the current MARC record, and we have fixed that problem by making them up. That isn’t the most effective way to handle this, and I wonder what would happen if we had gamers create our catalog/organizer our library?

Perry Branch Library in Gilbert, AZ change the library’s collection to be similar to a Barnes and Noble store. Other libraries have change the catalog to allow tagging, and more Web 2.0 interfaces, but still what if we started attracting a different audience to the job of cataloger.