As you look around libraryland, you’ll see quite a bit about 21st century libraries, services, and 21st century literacies. In 2014, after a yearlong forum, the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) released the report, The Future of Library Services for and with Teens: A Call to Action, which specifically addresses 21st century teens and their needs.
Most public librarians don’t need to be sold on serving teens. However, not everyone understands the importance of connecting with this age group, so a little data to back up suggestions is great for the librarian wanting to develop teen services. When you’re able to show that a quarter of library users are between the ages of 14-24, that can help a discussion about funding. Besides serving all ages, another big reason that library services exist is to be an equalizing force. Many teens are experiencing situations dealing with poverty and homelessness. They are living in a world where prejudice–whether it deals with race, ethnicity, or sexual preference–exists. The library should be a place where teens can come for help, acceptance, and learning.
Not only do libraries need to serve teens, but they need to be doing so in a way that is responsive to how teens interact with the world. These connections are greatly affected by technology and high online engagement. If libraries don’t create a relationship with teens, it decreases the chance that teens will find information that allows them to explore their world and grow.
Several tips are provided to help library staff connect with teens, with the first being to recognize “teens as thinking human beings.” Relating to others can be difficult, and adding an age difference can make it that much harder, but if staff talk with teens about what they care about, they can go a long way to connect. Understanding teens’ use of technology and taking risks with programs and services are also an important part of building a relationship. When staff know what these patrons are interested in, they can help the teens to learn more about what excites them and impart other skills at the same time.
The report recommends several changes from past library practices to possibilities for creating a better environment for teens. Seeing the library as a place for all teens, readers and gamers alike, and having a space and collection that reflect the desires of those patrons are integral. Programs must be created based on the interests of the users with learning opportunities incorporated. Devoted library staff need to be able to focus on creating services for teens, as well as making those connections with them.
Looking at the values expressed in the report for what library staff should uphold while working with teens, you see many of the same things that should be used with all library patrons, which relates back to their point about seeing teens as thinking humans. With adaptability, respect, collaboration, diversity, inclusivity, equality, and intellectual freedom all being listed among the important principles, library staff need to remember that teens deserve the same kinds of services as adults.
No matter what function you perform at a library, you can gain some piece of knowledge about how better to serve teens by reading this report. More and more libraries are actively working to engage their teen patrons through activities, like advisory boards where teens are able to express their interests, and outreach, where librarians offer booktalks on a wide variety of topics to show that all kinds of stories are available. Cliché or not, teens truly are the future of the world, and libraries can help to make a huge difference in making that future brighter for everyone.
 Braun, Linda W., Maureen L. Hartman, Sandra Hughes-Hassell, and Kafi Kumasi. “The Future of Library Services for and with Teens: A Call to Action.” American Library Association. January 8, 2014. (accessed June 18, 2015). Page 1-2.
 Ibid. Page 3.
 Ibid. Page 5.
 Ibid. Page 10.
 Ibid. Page 12.
 Ibid. Page 15-16.
 Ibid. Page 20-21.