Taking Teen Services to the Teens
I have worked for three different library systems and each had different ideas about how to provide service to the teens in their community. Each library had a special Young Adult (YA) collection, but how much space was devoted to that age group and what teens could do in that space differed greatly. Librarians recognize the advantages that teens can gain by being at the library. They can learn to be a part of the community, understand personal responsibility, and broaden their knowledge bases. But teens are not always treated well at libraries. At each of the three libraries that I worked for, the YA book collection was significantly smaller than either the Juvenile or Adult collections. And libraries know that it can be difficult to maintain a teen space that is free from adult encroachment, and even harder to keep those noise levels acceptable. As public librarians we need to start asking a serious question: Should the library go where we can best meet the needs of the teens?
The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), a division of the American Library Association (ALA) recommends that libraries can best serve teens by providing them their own space and their own autonomy over said space.1 There has been a big push to see the library as a safe third space for teens outside of school and that sounds great; but to do this requires a lot of money and resources and the space will be pretty empty until school lets out. As Jennifer Velaques points out in her teen blog, if teen spaces don’t have a dedicated librarian and staff to maintain the space and build relationships with the teens, then there isn’t much point to maintaining that space.2
What if we consider meeting the teens at their point of need? What if the library goes to the teens? Public schools, vocational schools, and career centers are all wonderful partners and great spaces where the library might want to set up shop. You’ll be able to share information about your online databases and work with them on interactive projects for school. Go to pizza parlors and hold book clubs that ask hard questions and encourage teens to come up with supported arguments, or get a game night going at the local laundromat.
Meredith Farkas espouses embedded librarianship as the way to update the library’s service model. In her article, “Get Out of the Library,” she points out that public libraries need to support their patrons at their point of need.3 Embedded librarianship is not a new idea and it is not exclusive to teen services; but if a library can only support one type of teen service, why not opt to get out of the library and meet the teens where they are already at?
1. Young Adult Library Services Association. Accessed 11 7, 2018. “Teen Space Guidelines” Adopted May 24, 2012.
2. Velaques, Jennifer. 2014. “Plastic Sofa-cover flashback: Beware the pristine, useless teen space.” Posted August 7, 2014.
3. Farkas, Meredith. 2018. “Get Out of the Library: Embedding librarians in our communities”. Posted May 1, 2018.