Looking at the March 8 Astronomy Picture of the Day, Solar Eclipse Shoes in the Classroom, in preparation for this blog post brought back a vivid memory that I hadn’t thought about in years. Like the students in the photograph, I witnessed a partial solar eclipse in high school. We poked pinholes in sheets of paper to watch the sun’s projection change shape against a second sheet of paper without burning our eyes. Spots of sunlight filtering through the tree leaves shrunk to half circles, then banana slivers as the light took on a golden hue that was uncharacteristic for the middle of the day.

Any time I feel anxiety over science programming, it’s helpful to remember how easy it can be. It doesn’t need to involve something as amazing as an eclipse. It doesn’t even need to be “programming,” it could simply mean asking teens, “Hey look at this cool/weird/mysterious thing, any guesses what it is?” Over the past year, the teens that visit my library have been entertained by a chunk of evaporating dry ice, helium-filled balloons, Pop Rocks, and vegetable oil + water + food coloring + alka-seltzer tablets in a bottle.

Earth, as viewed from the Cassini spacecraft as it passed near Saturn. Neil deGgrasse Tyson displayed the image during his 2015 tour.

Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, one of my science heroes, gives advice to children who want to know what they can do to help the earth. Explore things, he tells them, do fun things even when it might annoy your parents. His advice to adults is to get out of their way. Kids are naturally curious about the world, and adults have a responsibility to not suppress that curiosity. Bill Nye, another science hero, encourages people of all ages to ask questions about the world around them (with the disclaimer to be aware of social interactions while doing so).

Library staff generally take pride in answering patrons’ questions, and I think many of us feel anxiety over questions we don’t know how to answer. Instead of feeling anxious, we can encourage patrons’ natural curiosity by inviting them to make their own hypotheses, and introducing them to resources where they might find the answers.  Read More →

teen girl with mobile device Earlier this week I presented a YALSA Institue on Teens and Technology. The participants, library staff at libraries in the Southern Maryland Regional Library Association, and I talked a lot about what we know about teens in 2012/13, when it comes to technology. And, as I think about the topics discussed, it’s clear to me that quite a bit of what we covered is key in connecting with, creating for, and collaborating with teens in 2013. Here are some examples:

  • One YA librarian who has a brand new job in a brand new library talked about surveying the teens she works with to find out what they wanted and needed the library to provide. What did they tell her? They wanted space for hanging out with friends and being a part of the teen community. This might not be so surprising, but it does bring up a couple of key points related to connecting, creating, and collaborating in 2013. First, teens aren’t necessarily going to look at the library as their source of materials. While we still want to connect teens to materials, more importantly we need to provide space for teens to create and collaborate on their own and with their peers. This may be via a makerspace, a learning lab, and/or a flexibly furnished teen space that teens can turn into something that works at the exact moment for a specific need. It’s about the space perhaps along with the materials. And, maybe in some cases, the space more than the materials. This is also space that parents and caregivers feel comfortable having their teens spend time in. While we can’t be 100% safe, teens telling adults in their lives they are going to the library to hangout with friends is most likely something that parents will feel comfortable with. Read More →

This weekend YALSA’s YA Literature Symposium takes place in St. Louis. The theme is The Next Big Thing. Last month YALSA’s The Hub blog had a set of great posts on the theme covering everything from e-reading, to science fiction, to why the next big thing isn’t important. This month in the YALSAblog series on Connect, Create, Collaborate we’ll also talk about The Next Big Thing. This week, what’s the next big thing in teen spaces?

There is a lot of conversation these days about libraries and spaces. Hackerspaces. Makerspaces, Learning Commons. And so on. These are all great conversations to have as they get library staff serving teens thinking about what they do to serve the age group successfully. I keep wondering, are we really planning and thinking about the future of library space beyond the activities that go on in that space? Hacking, making, and learning are all really important. It’s great if we can integrate those activities and re-organize space for that now. But, what happens in the not so distant future when: Read More →

It has been a pleasure to help shape the National Guidelines for Teen Spaces in public libraries. The task force would like to thank the YALSA Board for giving us the opportunity to help define the standards for the teens who we all know and value. Hailing from a range of library environments (suburban, rural, urban), we were able to consider diverse service angles to create a document that would be accessible to all library staff working with teens. ‘ The guidelines offer suggestions for shaping spaces of all sizes by defining the essential characteristics for engagement in the space available. ‘ Because teens engage so heavily in digital media, we deemed it necessary to afford the same measure of attention to virtual spaces as physical space considerations.

An important concept running through the guidelines is the idea of teen ownership in defining and maintaining both physical and virtual spaces. Teens are able to create content in any popular digital platform, it makes sense that teens would expect to do the same in their library’s virtual space and it makes sense for libraries to pay attention to this. Teens expect to be able to interact with digital content and share ownership of information relevant to them. The way teens interact with content in popular virtual environments should help define the way in which a library structures their online presence with teens. Simply feeding information through librarian created content is no longer an effective means of reaching teens and engaging them in the library’s virtual space. ‘ Giving teens leadership in creating library content gives them ownership of their library space. There are a range of possibilities for teens to create content for libraries : online book, music, game, website reviews, facebook pages, twitter feeds about library events or programs, how to videos for creating facebook cover photos, personalized google maps of your town/city. The key is what information is relevant to your teens, what kind of content do they want to create or learn to create and how can your library facilitate that to give them ownership of their space.

How could your library give teens ownership of their virtual space?

As mk notes in her CoveritLive post about yesterday’s awesome Innovations in Teen Services panel, I was scheduled to speak on the panel but was grounded at the airport for an unplanned six additional hours. While that’s a whole blog post in itself, and probably not even the worst flight horror story of the conference, I’d like to share a bit here what I did plan to present. Special thanks to my colleague, Catherine Haydon, ALA Emerging Leader, who stepped in at a moment’s notice and shared information regarding using outcomes with teens.

While defining outcomes for your teen programs and services, isn’t necessarily something new, we’re probably seeing a lot more on our radars in terms of the importance of telling our story as libraries, particularly because of limited resources that we’re competing for in our communities. Being able to share that we’re making a difference in the lives of teens, is one way that we can show as a library we’re bringing value to the community. At my library in Charlotte, NC we have a teen intern program where teens learn to create with digital media and teach others how to do this as well. Read More →

You have the support of your library management, but you have no time, money, or space. How can you finally creating that teen space/center/area/room that you have been dreaming about?

Well it won’t be easy. As a matter of fact, it will be dusty and heavy and time-consuming. But all good things are worth the effort! Once you have secured approval from your boss the planning process can begin. Review the following ideas and mix-and-match to your heart’s content!

Idea #1: Ask the folks in Circulation for more shelf space for YA books. With their approval, shift adult books (or whatever is keeping you from expanding) away from the YA collection, giving yourself space to work with. Even if you don’t need the shelf space, you can use the more spread-out shelves to hold program flyers, set up book displays, hold bookmarks, display teen art work, and more. (Or perhaps the Director will walk through one day, notice the empty-ish shelves, and want to fill them? Or better yet, build you a Teen Center!)

If the idea of empty shelves scares you, ask a maintenance worker to help you take (some or all of) the actual shelves out of the shelving unit. Use that space to publicize events and put up larger displays.

Short on time?: Use volunteers! Teen volunteers are probably (hopefully?) the same teens that will be utilizing the Teen Space. Therefore, use them to help you shift. Offer volunteer/service hours or library card fine amnesty in return for their time.

Idea #2: Have a Teen Center that pops up wherever you have space. If you can’t have permanent space in your building, plan a weekly pop-up in your library’s meeting room or children’s storytime room. Bring TVs and gaming systems, laptop computers, a cart of new YA books, craft supplies, etc. Move the day and time around as it suites the needs of your teens, but try to do this on a regular basis.

Idea #3: Take that pop-up Teen Center to a local community center or school. Load up your car with all of the necessary equipment and set up shop in the non-library space. Plan this alongside a school’s afterschool tutoring program (maybe to begin immediately after tutoring sessions) and watch your attendance sky-rocket. While the teens play games, tell them about the library and invite them to visit and say hello to you next time they visit. *Have a special treat to give to the teens that do visit the library and seek you out. If possible, give them a teen-friendly tour of the branch and maybe even introduce them to a couple co-workers. Prove to them that they are welcome.

Idea #4: You know all those computers and comfy chairs in the adult area? Teens like those, too. Move a couple of each closer to the teen shelves. This encourages the teens to be comfortable in their own space, even if it’s a mere 20 feet from the adult area. Put a sign over the computers and chairs informing customers that they are for teens only (during non-school hours). *This will likely result in angry adult users once in a while. The “my tax dollars” fight will begin, but if you and the entire staff stand your ground this won’t continue forever.

Idea #5: If you have a bit of spare money (or receive a grant? Or win the lottery? Or acquire a millionaire benefactor?) purchase teen-friendly furniture and computers (Macs?) instead of just taking away from the adult area (a la idea #4). Put a plaque on the wall near all of this new stuff describing the area as a teen space and thanking those who supported it (Board, director, etc.). That way the teens and the adults who scope out the area know who it is for and why it is there. *Using private funds such as a donation or grant for these items will allow you to say, “These were not purchased with tax dollars,” which is a great way to put the kibosh on the ol’ “my tax dollars!” argument.

Idea #6: Display YA books and program flyers in the places where the teens are (i.e computer banks, study carrels, etc.). Maybe the teens don’t know you own entire shelves of YA books, magazines, and audio books. A sign pointing them in the right direction will not only inform them, it will inform your community that your library cares for teens and wants to provide services specifically for them. Be creative with your displays (tape arrows to the floor to literally guide them to the materials).

Idea #7: Even if you cannot shift books, set up a teen-only computer station, or buy comfy furniture to put near the teen stacks, you can make the teen stacks stand out. Cover the shelving units in bright colored paper. Have the teens make posters to tape to the shelves or hang from the ceiling over the shelves. The possibilities go on and on. Paint the walls nearest to the stacks, even! Delineate the teen center from the rest of the library.

Whatever you choose to do, try to do it with a few teen volunteers. Making them a part of the library gives what you do that much more meaning.
Previous YALSA bloggers have posted great articles on teen centers/spaces. For more inspiration, read these:

Whose Space is it? By Linda Braun

Trading Spaces: visiting each other’s libraries by Erin Daly and Gretchen Kolderup


A few years ago I was early for a workshop I was going to lead at New York Public Library’s Teen Central (when it was at the Donnell Branch). I knew about the Teen Central policy regarding adult use of the space. Adults can look for books and get help from a librarian, but they can’t sit at a table to work, read, etc. Yet, even though I knew about that policy, I also knew that I was friendly with several of the librarians that worked at Teen Central and thought they would waive the rules for me. (Which really wasn’t appropriate at all.) Read More →

I know that there are many articles, workshops, and blog entries circulating on teen spaces.Most of these revolve around the physical trappings of the area:what furniture did we buy, how did we find the space, what paint colors did we use, etc. Most prominently, they state how they got the money for this project. Who gave it, and how did we talk them into it? Having a teen space is seen as a vital part of serving teens. But where does that leave libraries that, for whatever reason, can’t get the funding?Or what if, no matter how supportive your administration is, they can’t enlarge your teen space any more than it is?

I am of the opinion that even if funding can’t be acquired, we can do simple, cost-effective things to make the teens feel at home in whatever space we have. Here’s a few things my library has done in the past few months. Read More →

I’ve been waiting a few days to write about the Teen Third Space because I’ve been allowing it to sink in.

I work in one of the oldest branches of my system. The teen space has one long table dominated by laptop users. Luckily we have a significant chunk of shelving, but the books aren’t new and shiny. In fact, everything is old, uncomfortable, and stained. The only thing that makes the teen area a teen area is the fact that it says “Teen” on the wall. Cuz there aren’t any teens sitting there. They’ll go anywhere else in the library to hang out, but do not want to be in the teen space at all. As the incoming teen librarian at this branch it is *the* major thing I need to fix.

So the President’s Program got me at just the right time. Titled “The Teen Third Space,” the session covered physical space, seating selection, and the electronic third space. Read More →