Library Services for Teens
Teens are often forgotten about in library services. Dedicated teen spaces are not common in smaller library locations, and other library users sharing space with teens can sometimes cause issues. Providing a free space where teens can gather, seek information and use library resources is an important part of library service for everyone, not just teen or youth services library staff.
Teens are going through a particular stage of adolescent brain development, which means that they have different and sometimes nonsensical priorities when looked at through the lens of an adult brain.
So what do libraries need to know before starting to offer services for teens? Check out the demographics in your area to find out more about your teen and young adult population. Kids Count Data Center from the Annie E. Casey Foundation has a wide range of statistics to support a library’s case for serving teens. Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) also maintains a statistics database called the Washington State Report Card with additional information that is searchable by school district.
Starting with a culture of respect is really the most important thing when welcoming teens into your library. Teens are library customers just like adult patrons and families. Helping them use library resources and have a positive experience in the library can have an impact beyond the library walls.
“The single most important thing that must occur in our libraries is that our patrons, including our teen patrons, must walk out of our buildings having had a positive experience. If we want them to come back we must do everything in our power to make sure that they have a positive experience. Creating a culture of respect for teenagers is one of the most important things we can do in our libraries if we want to retain them as library users (Teen Librarian Toolbox 2019).”
Check out the resource list at the bottom of the page for more information on serving teens in the public library.
- Sometimes it’s hard to get teens to come into the library! If you have the staffing to allow it, you have a great opportunity to meet teens where they are by taking library programs out to schools and other organizations that are already serving teens. After school programs are usually happy to partner with the library, particularly if you can bring a program or learning opportunity to their space.
- So, you already have teens coming in to the library? Get them involved in planning programs and services. You can provide an opportunity to earn volunteer hours by having interested teens participate in an advisory board that can help to plan and prepare for programs for both teens and other library users. Connecting teen interests with opportunities for professional development and learning is part of a broader movement called connected learning. For more resources check out the ConnectedLib Toolkit.
- Build on those partnerships that you’ve developed with the schools to serve middle school students. If you’ve already been hosting programs at the middle schools, reach out to the school librarians at the local high school to see if there are ways you can support their students. Maybe this looks like hosting Teen Advisory Board meetings or a book review club in the high school library during lunch, or maybe you are visiting 9th grade classes to talk about research resources that they can access with a public library card. Work with your school to find out what their needs are and then consider how the library might be able to fill in some of the gaps.
- Reach out to groups that are already serving teens in your community. Partnerships with after school programs, 4-H groups, LGBTQ youth organizations, and others can be a great start to building broader relationships with teens in the community who may not otherwise access library resources.
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