Once it began, everything seemed to be going smoothly. That is, until I saw a security guard shoot a look at a group of loud teens, telling them to keep it down. He then shut the door in their faces as they stood in the doorway trying to get into the event.
The teens were initially shocked and looked to each other for some kind of explanation. Then they burst out laughing at the absurdity of the situation.
There were more than 150 teens attending this YA author visit, buying books, CDs and T-shirts. It was a librarian’s dream: they were connecting with the author, asking questions about his writing, his character development, and ambiguous endings. They were having a blast with their friends, parents, and teachers, and connecting with other teens. But then one staff member spoiled it all.
For those teens, the security guard reaffirmed every negative stereotype of a library. I went home that evening feeling very sad.
It’s been ten years since I became a YA librarian, and here I am still fighting the same fight. When will other library staffers learn to treat teens with respect and understand the purpose behind teen programming?
Even the security guard should be held accountable for his behavior because, after all, he also works with the public—and he’s representing the library. In my opinion, he should get the same training that public library staffers do—and he should be held to the same standard as every library employee.
I agree with Tricia Suellentrop (the teen services librarian for the Johnson County Library in Kansas). The mission, vision and values of libraries should be clearly articulated to all employees of a library – including security guards. I have a number of stories such as this I use in class to illustrate in my classes how important the values of our profession and institutions should be for guiding user interaction, policy and the experience of visiting the library. Remeber these:
She concludes with:
When I think about negative experiences between library staffers and teens, it doesn’t lead me to believe that cutting down teen programming is an answer to the problem. Instead, it makes me want to double or triple my efforts. It makes me want to stick awesome teens, who are using the library in the best ways possible, right in the noses of those cranky and grouchy librarians.