I attended an Association for Library Services to Children (ALSC) National Institute a few years ago where one of the guest speakers was a teen librarian. She made a joke about how she enjoyed being in a room of children’s librarians because they were so warm, welcoming, and cheerful whereas teen librarians were angsty, moody, and cried that no one understood them. Even though it was meant in jest, I felt her words had a lot of truth to them. Young Adult (YA) services in the library is an area that doesn’t get a lot of love and support and many times a teen librarian is all alone feeling like a lonely island. Yet teen advocacy is everyone’s job, not just that of the teen librarian.
I will freely admit that adult reference is not my favorite area to work in, yet there are times that even though I work as a youth services manager, I still have to do adult reference. Just because I work in one department of the library does not mean I am immune to working with other age groups outside of that department. No matter which department you work in, working with every age group is part of being in public service. Which means even if you are not the go-to teen person or the teen librarian, you still will come in contact with teens at your library.
We should all advocate for and work with teen services in the library—no matter what position or department we work in. Advocating for the library is everyone’s job and teens are part of the library patronage. Every patron that walks into the library should have a positive experience, including teens. So how can everyone work with teens?
First off, don’t be shy! Say hi to the teens in your library. Make sure that they know that there are people at the library who take the time to notice them. Treat teens with respect. Don’t just point out when they are doing something wrong, but take the time to acknowledge them when they are in the library.
At my library, the reference desk and the children’s desk help pass out summer reading prizes. Our library is open more hours than the teen librarian can work, so there are many times teens are coming into the library to pick up prizes when the teen librarian is not there. Each year I encourage staff to talk to the teens that come into the library. Ask them if they’ve read any good books for summer reading or if they know about an upcoming teen program. This is something so small but it means so much to the teens who walk into the library. Taking the time to acknowledge the teens and letting them know that the library supports them and cares about them means a lot, especially to those teens who are constantly feeling as though they are on the outside and that no one cares. Something as simple as saying hi and talking to them about books can go a long way and make a big impression on a teen who will Working with have a positive experience at the library.
Did you see an article in the paper about teens in your area who did well in a debate tournament? Or was there a write-up about the local school musical or band competition? Share the good news about your teens with your entire staff, at meetings or in the staff room so everyone knows what your local teens are up to. We host a teen night after hours at my library every month and this is a great way for staff in other departments to help out with a teen program. If you have a hobby that you would like to share with teens, join up with your teen librarian to present a program. The more collaboration the better—it makes us better coworkers and it gives us insight into what is happening in all areas of the library. So often we get stuck in our own department bubbles and it’s good to branch out and try something new.
If you hear a teen talking about a library program, share that with staff. Teen librarians, you should share stories of your programs. Librarians often get caught up in statistics and we focus on numbers, but I think anecdotes and stories about our experiences at the library mean even more. Recently we hosted a local musician to talk about the music business, how to become a musician, and start a band. One of the teens that attended talked about how he was taking guitar lessons and came in the library several times after the program to get books. This sort of thing happens all the time in the library and we need to share our stories with everyone on our staff to remind us why we do what we do, and remember that it’s important to serve all ages. We are making a difference.
I know that not everyone loves working in teen services. Not everyone thrives in every area of the library, just like adult reference is not my favorite area to work in. But when I’m faced with an adult reference question, I don’t run and hide, I help the patron—because that’s my job as a librarian. We serve all ages in the library at all times and it’s everyone’s job to work with teens.