Granted, many libraries already excel in this area, but it’s worth mentioning. In my first “test” post I joked that, “If we can get [baby ducks] to come in for quacky time when they’re still fuzzy, cute, and let’s face it a little impressionable, I think we’ll have them for life.” But seriously folks, if we give teens a positive, engaging, welcoming library experience, there’s a much greater chance that we will keep them for life (or at least through their first molting season.)
And I don’t think that a positive, engaging, and welcoming experience is at odds with the necessary boundary setting that has to happen with teens. I never felt more loved and welcomed than when Carol Kuhlthau was throwing me out of my high school library! (I had an inkling that defacing magazine covers by cutting out the noses and mouths and wearing them as masks was not appropriate behavior.) I appreciated that I had done something wrong and Carol always welcomed me and my friends back. I guess she realized that when we weren’t goofing around we were actually doing some reading.
So how do we make libraries welcoming and engaging for teens? There’s the basics: Smile at them. Treat them as you would other customers. Anticipate and meet their needs. What needs? Stephen Abram suggests letting teens bring their skateboards into the library:
“Why don’t we have a skateboard rack inside the library? Why would we have our patrons risk their independence if their skateboard is lost or stolen? How would they get to the library? We should support them. A skateboard box, Rubbermaid storage container or simply a towel bar by the service desk is a simple solution that provides a service instead of a negative interaction. It’s welcoming. Buy or get a second hand old skateboard and a few sticky letters that say WELCOME. Why wouldn’t we do this? It’s a cheap visible proof of welcoming attitudes.”
Aaron Schmidt suggests (gasp) letting them use the stapler (that generated a LOT of discussion across many blogs–worth following.) Back in a previous incarnation when I served as a YA librarian I set up a modest homework center with paper, scissors (double-gasp), hole punch, white out, pens, pencils, highlighters, paperback dictionaries and thesauri all located in a little 3 shelf bookcase–just for teens! If they’re asking us for it, why not provide it? (Please don’t say “money”: paper, pens and a few staplers a year–yes they walk occasionally–aren’t going to break the bank.)
Beyond the basics (smiling, scold-free service) there are so many good ideas out there for serving teens it’s hard to know where to start. So why not start here at the BIG IDEAS, NOW: teens @ your library conference that took place April 30-May 1, 2004, at Trinity College University of Toronto. There are a lot of goodies here so I’ll highlight a few:
- Keynote address by past YALSA President Michael Cart
- Notes from breakout session, Attracting Teens/Selling Teen Services to Staff and Administration
- Notes from breakout session, Adolescent Development and Libraries (good ideas on why teens come to the library and what we can do to meet their needs)
- Notes from breakout session, Librarians New to Working with Teens
Thanks Ontario Library Association for continuing to host such a valuable resource!