As we move into spring, librarians around the country are starting to think about using teen volunteers over the summer. Talk about YOUTH PARTICIPATION! I had the privilege of working with over 100 teens in the six years that I supervised a computer signup program. Teens to manage Internet signups for up to 26 computers and assist users with non reference transactions such as attaching files, printing, typing in a URL or setting up an email account. Even if you have software that manages your computer signups, consider using technology savvy teens to assist users with computer tasks.

It was a great program that met the needs of the library, gave teens community service credit, and built the following developmental assets as defined by the Search Institute:

Other Adult Relationships: Working with library staff and developing a relationship with YA librarian.

Caring Neighbors: Librarians were like caring neighbors – they grew to like kids and become concerned about their success and well-being.

Community Values Youth: The program itself demonstrated that we appreciated teens who provided this useful service. Volunteers were also invited to suggest web site links.

Youth as Resources: Teens brought computer expertise of their own to the job.

Service to Others: Teens earned community service hours for work.

[Library] Provides Clear Rules and Consequences: We gave volunteers the library rules and volunteer tips in writing and explained them in person; teens were held accountable in evaluations each semester as well as through supervision during their shift.

[Library] Monitors Behavior: Teens were supervised and expected to follow library rules and set a good example for peers.

High Expectations: Every teen who wanted to try being a TCC volunteer was allowed to get trained and try it. We expected a 20-hour commitment, and got parent buy-in – parents had to sign the volunteer form. I did train teens who dropped out after 4 or 10 hours. I also had one boy perform over 200 hours! He is a college senior now – and we’re still in touch.

Caring: Volunteers often came to work for us to help people.

Honesty: Teens had to treat all customers the same and be truthful and accurate about who was on what computer at which time; also, I didn’t work every shift and they had to accurately track their hours of service.

Responsibility: Managing 26 machines was a LOT of work! Just showing up was a responsible act.

Planning and Decision Making: Determining who to put on which computer, how to let someone know their time was up and learning when to get a librarian for help involved problem solving and critical thinking skills.

Interpersonal Competence: People skills were very important in this job, more than the computer skills.

Cultural Competence: Our busy city library allowed teens to interact with people for a variety of backgrounds, ages and situations.

High Self-Esteem: There were many opportunities to feel good about volunteering.

Sense of Purpose: For that 2 hour shift, that volunteer felt both expert and needed. We thanked teens for working at the end of every shift, praised them when they did well, and let them make mistakes to learn from. Most years we had a gathering of some kind, and teens were invited to the annual volunteer luncheon. I wrote many letters of recommendation for job and college applications.)

These were my volunteer tips when I ran a volunteer program. In an initial 45 minute training session, teens got an introduction to the reference staff, a quick library tour, and we went over the Internet policy, the behavior policy, the job description (they were computer volunteers) and computer signup procedures. I showed them lots of things in the volunteer manual and explained it was a resource, but I went over each of these tips in detail.


Sign in/Sign Out. A sign-in sheet for each volunteer is located in this manual. Please keep track of your hours and check for notes from your supervisor on your page. (I totaled hours and did certificates for 20 hours, then at the end of each fiscal year; the number of teens and number of hours was counted in the annual report.)

Wear your volunteer pin. Pins are located on the desk. Pins let the staff know you are authorized to do signups and let patrons know to see you for help. (everyone hated the pins. Hats or t-shirts would have been nice. The pins didn’t have names unless the kids wanted to write them in – just s logo and the word volunteer. They always forgot to take them off. I lost a lot of pins.)

Introduce yourself. Make sure you greet the staff you are working with and remind them who you are. (this was important for helping me do evaluations. Also, staff members always thanked the teens for working – good for teen esteem – and allowed the staff to see teens in a positive light.)

Be friendly, polite and professional. This is a customer service job. You might be the only library person a patron talks to, so smile and speak clearly. (I reminded kids not to say WHAT? but to ask patrons to spell their names or write their own names, to make eye contact, etc).

Treat volunteering like a job. If you are scheduled to be here, be here on time ready to work. If you cannot make your shift, please call the library so we know not to expect you. (I told teens they didn’t need to ask permission to miss a shift, it was simply a courtesy.)

Users first. Get in the habit of looking around every 5 minutes to see if people left or sat down without signing up. When a patron comes over to you, STOP whatever you are doing. Smile and make eye contact THEN ask how you can help them. (This was just a reminder not to get completely engrossed in your own computer when volunteering.)

Ask for help when you need it. Don’t be shy! If you have a question you can’t answer or a computer you can’t fix, get a librarian right away. (I showed teens where to find answers to questions like how do I attach a file, but reiterated they could ask the same question every day and we would patiently show them/give the answer.)

Know when to get a librarian. It is not the duty of the volunteer to monitor peers for appropriate use, enforce rules, or discipline those who break the rules. See “When to get a Librarian” on the next page. (This was VERY important – I also encouraged teens to get an adult ANYTIME someone made them feel uncomfortable.)

Keep visitors to a minimum. It is okay to greet people you know, but please be brief. Friends and family should not pull up a chair and hang out, or even use a computer next to yours. Get a librarian to gently remind friends that you are working. (This was a question I treated with a little humor “You’ll see lots of people you know, but no one should pull up a chair and hang out like I am doing right now. If your friends are a distraction, let a staff member know and WE can be the bad guy and explain that you are working.)

Volunteering counts as your Internet time. Please do not sign up before your shift. If you need more time after your shift, you may sign up for an hour. (Teens who volunteered were guaranteed a computer while they were working. We had a 1 hour time limit, so getting the computer for 2-4 hours was a nice perk.)

Remember you represent the library. Please dress neatly — whatever you can wear to school you may wear here — and take care of personal hygiene. (Teens usually laughed at this one, but I addressed issues like low-cut blouses and short-shorts here – we did have an instance of an adult hitting on a teen volunteer who looked older with her dress and makeup. I encouraged them to carefully consider the messages they sent with the clothing they chose, and sometimes it could result in unwelcome attention. Again, reminded them to get an adult ANYTIME someone made them feel uncomfortable.)

Headphones are not allowed when volunteering. They are distracting and make patrons think you are unapproachable. (we sold headphones for a $1 at the desk for patrons.)

Thank you for not eating and drinking in public areas. Drinks and snacks may be left in the Reference Office. (Teens could get up anytime to get a drink or snack from the office.)

If you work 4 hours, you get a 20-minute break. This is MANDATORY. See a staff member to get to the staff room. You may, of course, use the lavatory or water fountain whenever you need to. (The break is a state law – anything that applies to working teens applies to volunteering teens, including hours they can work. We asked that if teen would be gone for more than 5 minutes, s/he let a staff member know so the area could be monitored.)

Talk to your supervisor. If you are unhappy or have questions or problems, please contact Beth Gallaway at the library, on AIM, or via e-mail. (Contact info followed.)

I am happy to send the volunteer manual as an attachment to anyone who would like a copy – many of the procedures may be out of date, and the library has gone to an automated sign up system. E-mail for a copy.

~posted by Beth Gallaway

Posted by Mary Arnold, yalsa50 committee co-chair

You can never have too much birthday, so be sure to stop by the YALSA booth at annual conference in New Orleans June 22-28! The 50th birthday celebration group, YALSA Board and our great YALSA staff will kick-start the party early with 50th anniversary stickers for your conference badge to show all our colleagues that YALSA has been helping librarians serve teen customers well for a long time!

We are a creative bunch, so please post ideas for ways YALSA can get the word out — 50 and still young (adult) at heart! YALSA plans to celebrate it’s 50th Anniversary throughout 2007.

Posted by Paula Brehm-Heeger, TAGS committee:

When there is tension in the Library, everyone feels it. Many libraries report that it starts around 2:30, when the after school crowd begins to trickle into the building. Often unhappy staff members are the most obviously stressed, but teens who feel unwelcome and unfairly targeted for constant correction of their behavior feel stress, too.

Lowering the tension level is tough to do once a pattern has been established, right? Sometimes words – no matter how calmly delivered to frustrated staff or teens that are not in the habit of trusting the library “really wants you here” – just don’t seem to do the trick.

Quality training opportunities– like those offered by SUS trainers – are extremely valuable. Take a look around your community, too. Are there staff training possibilities available from experts outside the Library profession?

Recently, I heard a community health educator specializing in adolescent medicine discuss the importance of bringing tense people out of the “red zone” – both mentally and physically – in order to effectively address challenging behaviors (“challenging behavior” of both teens and staff). This community health educator did a one hour stress management session with my TAG focused on physical and mental tools for simply calming yourself down. They loved it. Many have reported using these methods at school or when they are having difficult interactions with parents or teachers.

Why not host this kind of session for staff, too? It can be quick, easy and incorporated into a general staff meeting. Staff members may realize that, once they start reflecting on daily stress, it is not only (or perhaps predominately) teens that cause them to feel tension.

Now that my TAG has had some stress management education, they are very interested in talking more at our meetings about their ideas for de-stressing staff/teen interactions in the Library, too!

Posted by Pam Spencer Holley

This year YALSA has been able to pair with WWE for several reading events and I wanted to describe some of what went on with our first-ever Big Time Reading Challenge this past March 31st. I was in Chicago to attend this cooperative effort among YALSA, the Chicago Public Schools and WWE [World Wrestling Entertainment]. In February and March students in Chicago Public Schools read Athletic Shorts by Chris Crutcher and then either wrote essays or took quizzes in their schools [and I may have some details wrong here, but the main thing is kids read], competing for the right to attend this final challenge. Several days before the March 31st event, some of the WWE wrestlers went into the schools and spoke with the students [and I heard nothing but positive comments from teachers, librarians and students about this].

On the big day, 150 students arrived at Robert Morris University in Chicago, along with Beth, Nichole and me from YALSA; Neil Yoke who worked with the press [this is Beth’s husband and he’s great at event planning]; various people from the Dept of Libraries of Chicago Public Schools; folks from Morris Univ, who were very helpful; and then WWE staff accompanied by wrestlers Shelton Benjamin, Rey Mysterio and “the mouth of the south” Jimmy Hart [once Jimmy arrived, I had to give up my microphone to him for emcee duties–there was no way I could have ‘wrestled’ it from him!].

CPS provided breakfast goodies for the students–juice and Danish–then everyone met in the auditorium for those “logistical details.” After that the group was split in two with half staying in the auditorium listening to Chris Crutcher while the other half went to take quizzes that would lead to the 16 finalists; after an hour, the groups had a break and switched locations. It was really exciting to be in a room with students who had all read the same book–Chris spoke in his usual relaxed manner and had the kids spellbound, especially when he shared where the origin of some of his characters, such as Telephone Man.

When the groups were all back together in the auditorium, the wrestlers arrived and Jimmy Hart announced the finalists, one by one, as they walked in and took their special seats. Wrestlers Shelton and Rey alternated asking questions of the students while Crutcher was the official judge of the answers. There were 5 rounds of questions [Beth and I both agreed that this piece could use a little jazzing up as it did get tedious listening to 5 rounds of 16 questions each!]. Eventually three top winners were selected. All the finalists received tickets to Wrestlemania [we talked to one girl who said she did this only to get tickets for her grandmother!], the top three winners received better tickets, duffel bags of goodies from WWE and money for their libraries [$2000, $1500 and $1000]. Every student who attended also received a Wrestlemania t-shirt, and a swag bag with book galleys provided by YALSA, bookmarks and other little goodies. Comcast provided door prizes and lunch from Subway and autographing as the Big Time Reading Challenge wound down by 1pm.

Though I’ve only been involved with the WWE groups twice now, each time I’ve been so impressed with this organization. The wrestlers they bring into the schools do a super job of interacting with students; they all seem to know how to talk to teens. I heard incredible reports from a librarian who worked at a school attended by many handicapped students who were just in awe of their visit from the wrestlers. Over and over we heard these comments from the Chicago librarians and teachers—you couldn’t help but feel good to be part of this event.

LJ Opinion Polls
I am a little delayed reporting on this as I struggle to be diplomatic, but I’m wondering… what kind of message does it send to our profession when Library Journal (Reed Business), publishes an opinion poll focusing on negative teen behavior in libraries?

Online polls about library issues have come under scrutiny before. In February 2005, American Libraries, in a poll via its January 25 issue of AL Direct, “Should ALA Council pass a resolution condemning the Cuban government for its imprisonment of dissident ‘independent librarians?'” was viewed as an “[Intervention] in the business of the Association.”

The great thing about LJ and AL polls is that they do become an opportunity for discussion. A brief discussion on the YALSA-BK listservs had librarians divided on the fairness of the poll. “Our big problems aren’t the teens, it is adults that give us behavior problems at times,” wrote one YA librarian. “I don’t have adults who poke holes in the furniture, shout, shove, and throw things across the room,” contradicted another, generating a lively conversation about patron behavior and serving the underserved.

The poll, although vague, does reflect the negative view of teens held by many adults, patrons AND librarians. The lack of support from administration for librarians working with teens, coupled with the behavior issues and poor attitude from fellow staff, seems to result in burnout. One librarian suggested that “Teen Librarians and Burnout” would be a great research project. There’s money available for research in the field, and I’d say this qualifies as a “Professional Problem,” which is a criteria for the the
Frances Henne / YALSA / VOYA Research Grant
. For more details, please visit the YALSA handbook to see YALSA’s Research Agenda, or consider applying for the Henne. Perhaps a YALSA member needs to create their own poll about behavior of all kinds, from patrons of all ages, and how it is dealt with and perceived by all staff.

A Quick Plug for SUS Trainers
Don’t forget, sometimes when you are making the case for teen services (or just arguing that they are valid and valuable patrons), it helps for the staff to hear it from someone else, even after all you’ve done to become the teen expert in your community. Ask someone at another branch, from another town, or even an SUS trainer to deliver a workshop on specific aspects of teen services. From the YALSA web site: “The subjects … include adolescent development, reading interests, behavioral problems, youth participation, facilities, and computer services for teens. The trainers have been trained to work with adult learners and are experts in the specialized field of young adult services.”

This week’s poll, perhaps in an effort to back peddle, focuses on teen participation, a core of library service to young adults. Teen participation is a terrific solution to teen behavioral issues: give them the opportunity to participate and it allows for relationship building, community building, and a sense of ownership that results in fewer behavior problems. As of noon today, 29.73% of librarians do have Teen Advisory Boards, 35.14% get teen feedback on ideas, and 35.14% do neither. The questions are clumsy – presumably, the purpose OF a Teen Advisory Board is to solicit teen feedback – why ask their opinion if you are not going to follow through?

Perhaps that’s a topic for another post.

~posted by Beth Gallaway

Posted by Linda W. Braun

Recently I’ve had the chance to work with Teen Advisory Groups at a couple of branches of The New York Public Library to find out how the teens would like to integrate gaming into library programs and services. The teens have, not surprisingly, amazing ideas about what the library can do and how they can do it. Every time I’ve said, “How will we make that happen?” at least one of the teens has replied with a viable option/solution. Here are some things they’ve been working on:

  • Hosting gaming nights for adults – parents, teachers, librarians, etc. – so the adults can learn about gaming from the teens. Teens are going to help adults play the games and demo. some of the games. The teens talked about what the program will look like, how to advertise it, what should go on the flyer, and what the registration limit should be.
  • Since there’s only one TV to hook up the consoles in the library teens suggested using a projection system for game demos. and playing.
  • One teen came up with the idea to host a tournament where players have to advance in a game only using their own wits – no guides, cheat codes, etc.
  • All of the teens want to invite expert gamers into the library to show how they play games and give the teens suggestions on how to be better gamers themselves.

This is just the tip of the iceberg really in what we’ve talked about and are developing. The teens are excited, the librarians are excited. And, to be honest, I’m excited.

At Midwinter 2007 YALSA is going to sponsor another gaming night for librarians. By then I bet I’ll have lots more ideas to bring to the event.

Posted by Linda W. Braun

Today I listened to the latest Inside the Net podcast. The hosts interviewed the people behind Big in Japan – a collection of web-based tools. One of the tools they talked about was PodServe. It sounded intriguing so I had to check it out.

It’s a great tool that I think librarians working with teens could definitely use. The first thing you need to do is register for Big in Japan. It’s free and very easy to do. Then setup your podserve space. You do that by giving your podcast a name, decide if you want it listed in iTunes and a few other services, describe the podcast, and give it some keyword tags.

Another thing you can do is decide if you want the podcast to be what PodServe calls a “Social Podcast.” The idea behind the social podcast is that a group of people create podcasts on a theme and upload and distribute them from the same PodServe space. For librarians working with teens I envision that a group of YA librarians might all work on a podcast together. Teens in different libraries could create podcasts and upload them to the same PodServe space. Imagine if each week, or even every day, a different group of teens published a podcast as a part of the social podcast space. That could be an incredibly powerful way to give teens in a variety of communities a voice.

Once you setup the podcast at PodServe you can then start uploading audio files as you create them. PodServe then acts as the host and distribution mechanism for your podcast. You don’t have to have server space or create the RSS feed for the files.

If you’ve been trying to figure out how to get podcasts going at your library PodServe might be just the thing you need.

Posted by Linda W. Braun

Now that I posted links to librarian blogs that talk about teens and teens in libraries. And posted links to blogs for teens about YA programs and services. I thought it also made sense to post links to blogs written by YA authors. So, as per my usual style, here are a few to get started:

Meg Cabot
Cecil Castellucci
John Green
Brent Hartinger

If you know of others let us know in a comment to this post.

Posted by Linda W. Braun

A couple of days ago I blogged about blogs written by YA librarians that focus on topics of interest to librarians working with/for teens. I realized that it would also be good to blog about some of the blogs that libraries are maintaining in order to promote and discuss YA services in the library. Here’s a short list to get started:

Framingham Public Library (MA) Young Adult Blog
Hinsdale Public Library (IL) Teen Blog
JMRL Young Adult Services (VA)
NOHO Teens (MA)

If you are looking for ideas for your own library blog these should help you think about what will work for you.

If you have a YA blog let us know about it on this blog.

Posted by Linda W. Braun

The cover story in this week’s Newsweek is titled, “Putting the ‘We’ in Web.” The article is worth reading as it talks about some of the technologies and sites that teens currently use and does a good job at providing an overview of what community building on the web is currently all about.

I thought the opening paragraph that reads

“Why is everyone so happy in Silicon Valley again? A new wave of start-ups are cashing in on the next stage of the Internet. And this time, it’s all about … you.”

Provided some good food for thought from the teen librarian perspective. The “you” that they talk about isn’t just about your customers who use the web but the you is also us and how we can start to think about integrating these technologies into our programs and services for teens.

One of the sites/technologies discussed in the article is YouTube and I was reminded again about a podcast I listened to that included an interview with one of the founders of YouTube. In the podcast one person mentioned that his teenagers basically have given up TV and only watch videos they find on YouTube. Downloadable video/TV is the next big frontier on the web. Have we started thinking about how teens are using it and what we can do to support them in their use of downloadable video?