Yesterday I attended the 8th Annual Teen Summit in Worcester, MA. As always, I was very impressed with the speakers and with the incredible organization of the entire thing by MLS staff. Apparently there was a record attendance this year, which just goes to show how many libraries / librarians are interested in learning how to better serve this typically under-served group. (For more info on this very cool program, click on the link above!)
This made me do some reflecting on my own adventures in teen library services.
As “Head of Youth Services,” I also do teen programming. And it’s hard. Like, REALLY hard. Here are few reasons why I personally have found providing programs and services for teens so difficult over the years:
Providing a space for teens where they feel comfortable and welcome
When I first came to work at my library, about 9 years ago, I was really excited to see where the “teen room” was going to be. Construction on the huge addition had been completed and the furniture was starting to come in. When I asked about the teen room or YA collection, I was shown 2 shelf units, with 2 shelves each, located directly in front of the Adult Circulation Desk. They might as well have put up a big sign that said “We Don’t Trust Teenagers.” (I have since hijacked the big reference space and turned it into the Teen Space.)
I have some pretty awesome people on my staff and on the Adult staff (where the Teen Space is located.) And they all have teenagers or very recently had teenagers so they completely get it. But there is always a level of mistrust when it comes to teens – it’s just always there and probably will always be there. They just have knack for getting into trouble or being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong person. And they know it. They can sense the mistrust. And they can also smell a librarian’s fear of them. What teen wants to sit and know they are being watched to make sure they don’t pull out a can of spray paint and deface the coffee table?
When there are teens who are interested in coming to my programs, they tend to be on the “tween” side of teen. Which means that unless they can walk to the library or get off the bus here, they are at the mercy of their parents to drive them.
Even if older teens could drive here, they probably have a gazillion other things taking up their precious time after school. Work, sports, lessons of various kinds, homework, after-school activities, etc.
My schedule / hours of operation:
At the moment, I do not work nights because of my daughter’s daycare schedule. We are only open 2 nights a week until 8. The other days we close at 5. And we are closed one weekday. I usually only work 1 Saturday a month, which can vary depending on if I have to switch and cover for someone else. So the problem becomes, when the heck do I schedule programs for teens??
The teens are not impressed with duct tape wallets
Oh, sorry, did you think that idea on Pinterest sounded like fun? Um, yeah, it’s not, and they would like to go back to Instagram if it’s all the same to you. I’ve had some teens totally get into programs and some not so much. It’s hard to impress teens sometimes and even harder to get them away from their phones. (But no judgement, mine is essentially part of my hand now.) And there are certain tricks to bribe teens to come to your programs, but even these don’t always work. It’s
sometimes usually always hit or miss, no matter what the program is or which age group it’s for.
Obviously there are more problems than this, but these are the main ones I deal with or have dealt with in the past. Serving teens in the library is a daunting task sometimes, and I have found my self very discouraged over the years. It’s also difficult when my priorities are split between teens and children. When you have very little time to plan programs, do you use it to plan programs for kids, toddlers and babies because those are usually a sure-thing and a good attendance booster? I’ve often felt that this ends up being the case, because why go to all the trouble to plan teen programs and then have no one show up? I am trying to stop thinking this way and trying to think of ways to get around some of the roadblocks. And there is a lot of trial and error, as there in most youth services library programming. Over the past year or so, I have been really focusing on teen services and I think it’s starting to work! Sort of. And in the next month or so I will attempt to organize my recent attempts at teen programming and add them to this site so you can borrow them for your own library. Stay tuned…..
~ Miss Molly
P.S. Here are some of my past posts about teen programs I have done at the library that kind of worked and were fun!