Programming is a great tool for libraries, but it can only get us so far. Real interactions, friendships, and something as simple as saying hello to our patrons is one of the best practices for a teen librarian to learn. I’m inclined to believe that librarians who spend more time interacting, building friendships, and communicating with their patrons have better results with the community that they serve.
How many teen craft programs can we host? Do teens even really like Star Wars/Harry Potter/Twilight themed events? Is gaming really one of the main solutions we have to keep turning towards?
We shouldn’t abandon programming all together. Think of programming as the first step, the gateway towards something deeper. Plan ahead with teen programs, but don’t spend a majority of your energy and focus on the programs themselves. Spend this time and energy on people. Take the time that you’d be taking to plan and implement an event like, say, teen after hours, and instead funnel that energy one day towards sitting down with your teens. Ask them about their day. Tell them about your life. Listen to their stories. Have a laugh.
Another idea, although slightly pricey, may be to think about investing in staff. Sure, employing even a part time staff member can even have a tremendous effect on your budget, but you can’t think of it in business terms. An employee whose main priority is to interact with teen patrons and make them feel like part of the community can bring such a great positive energy to a library.
The next time you want to focus your energy and budget on a Twilight themed prom style event, think about your other options? Is it worth spending your energy sitting and chatting with the teens in your library instead?
Teen Librarianship has a unique place within libraries. It’s not quite a new idea for libraries to provide dedicated services to teens, yet it doesn’t still have the same kind of rich history we have with other populations. This gives teen librarianship a unique place within libraries today; it allows the librarians that serve these groups the chance to experiment in regards to how we approach library services. Teen librarians are not exactly bound by the same rules and programs which have held public libraries together for many years. Librarians working with teens have the chance to fully embrace participatory culture and help build a community of patrons who participate just as much as they consume.
THE LIBRARY STAFF IS THE COLLECTION
Librarians can act as the teachers for guiding their community towards being more active in sharing. This is one of the ways libraries in the 21st century can show their public value to their communities. The role of the librarian is transformed when librarians help their communities create content instead of merely just consuming it. We become teachers for our community, guides who help patrons learn and experience in new ways. This also adds value to the library staff. No longer are library staff just “there to help”, but they are there to help you experience. This added value re purposes libraries; the staff has become as important as the collection. Much like the reference book that helps you repair your car, the staff and their unique skills can help patrons navigate the 21st century.
LET’S BUILD SOMETHING
The use of technology has changed the way our community members can communicate with other. Patrons are no longer restricted by geography, forms of communication, or channels to publish their communication. Libraries now have a vast array of tools in our utility belt that we can call upon to engage patrons, build unique collections, and more. For example, take Historypin, which allows users to upload photos and pin them to a Google Map. With photos added, the true power of Historypin becomes clearer, as it creates a visual map of your community. The best part about it? It’s free to anyone that wants to contribute and share. Our communities now assist in building collections, and librarians become the curators of those collections. Better yet? Teen are learning new ways of communication which will no doubt aid them in their own search for identity but also give back to the complex fabric of the community in which they live.
(check out this and this for examples on teens creating unique content for their local public libraries)
I got an iPhone this past month, and I’ve been slowly digging into the vast library or apps that the phone offers. A lot of things have grabbed my attention, but nothing perhaps so much as Historypin. From Wikipedia:
Historypin is an online, user-generated archive of historical photos and personal recollections. Users are able to use the location and date of an image to ‘pin’ it to Google Maps Where Google Street View is available, users can overlay the historical photograph and compare it with the contemporary location.
When I use Historypin, all that I can think about is how libraries should be jumping all over this and using it to create a unique glimpse into their community. I’ve talked before about how I believe the path forward for public libraries is in encouraging our communities to create unique content (1, 2, and 3) and here is a tool that allows us to do this.
Here’s what I’m imagining from my point of view as a teen librarian: what if I got a handful of teens interested in photography, a few digital cameras or iPod touches, and we had a program where we headed out into the city for a half hour taking pictures. We could then come back into the library and, using the library’s wifi and the Historypin app, upload the photos and catalog our city at that moment in time. What’s even better is that Historypin encourages users to snap pictures of old photographs and upload them to Historypine (see the above image for an example). Say that your library has an extensive local history collection (sort of like the one at my library). Wouldn’t it be great to mobilize some volunteers to digitize photos and upload them to Historypin? The library could even partner with local tourism organizations to give people with mobile phones a walking history tour of the city.
We met over lunch at Kamasouptra and we came up with a simple idea: get beats, teach teens about music, hip hop, and writing, and let them make music.
THE PLAN IN ACTION Sonya put out the word to those in the hip hop community that we were looking for beats for the program. She got a number of beats back from some great producers. Our teens then listened to those beats and selected the two which they wanted to work on over the next few weeks.
THE NEXT THREE WEEKS Over the next 3 weeks, the teens hunkered down with Sontiago in the library and worked on adding to the music. The teens (with Sontiago’s guidance) mapped out where the verse, chorus, and bridges would be in the song. They took the instrumental tracks and transformed them into their own pieces of art. By the end of the third week, all of the teens parts had been written and recorded. The final step was mixing the tracks and blending the teens vocals together to create something truly moving. Between the work done by the producers, the teens, and Sontiago, this was a true collaborative project that took place in the public library.
FOR MORE INFORMATION I wrote about the Make Music at the Library over at my personal blog while the program was going on. You can read those posts here.
Here’s a video playlist taken from the four weeks the teens spent working on the tracks:
“The time is now,” I keep telling myself. Let me tell you why.
It’s been almost five years since I fell into being a teen librarian. I was working toward my MLS at Clarion University when I was approached to do some summer teen programming at the Clarion Free Library in Clarion, PA. Their proposal was simple: do stuff for teens, buy some cool books, and get them into the library. I was a one-person team tasked with pretty much creating a library for these oft-forgotten patrons. I did it, and the teens were happy, but I realized at the same time that I had inadvertently reinforced the mainstream belief that all it takes is one teen librarian to make it happen.
Maybe that was true in 2007, but it’s 2011, and things have changed.
Being a teen librarian is a full-time job fit for a small army, and it is high time that we reward the position with proper staffing. No longer can the work rest on one person’s shoulders. Teen librarians deserve to be recognized as their own department within the larger structure of a public library, not a bridge between children’s and adult services.
I can only point to examples from my life to highlight how great the need for expansion of teen services is. At the end of 2010, I put together this https://sites.google.com/site/portlandplteens/2010yearinreview year in review to share with the community all of the things we’d been doing for teens. The numbers are pretty staggering, especially when you consider that we opened to the public on April 15, 2010. Yes, I did have some help with my programs, but it was small—one employee running our public desk for ten hours per week while I programmed/managed/collected/did everything I can’t when I work directly with the public.
In 2011, that system persists. I also dedicate four hours per week to help with shelving returned materials. However, when it comes to the bulk of the steering, I do it solo.
Luckily, I have Twitter to call upon other teen librarians. When I posed this question to them, I found that quite a few of my colleagues were in the same boat (here are their full responses). The ones that were not had some kind of small team around them, and the thoughts they shared were rather positive (for example, read what @johnny_pistols has to say). This leads me to think about the atmosphere we’re creating in our teen library spaces. Sure, we’re making awesome experiences for teens, but are they also picking up on just how stressed out we are?
Day in and day out, our teens are seeing us as the one person they can identify with in the library. If part of our jobs is to help them become strong adults, are we failing them? I’m 31 years old, and I’m finally realizing that very little can get done when you’re acting alone. The real magic happens with teams: family, community, and friends are what we need to make things happen. We’re giving our teen patrons a false sense of what it means to be an adult by operating our teen services this way.
That’s not to say that we should be hiding away in teen library land. In getting our own department, we’d have a great responsibility. It would be our time to rise up and communicate effectively; enrich and broaden library services. Our teen department should be well tuned into what’s going on with children’s and adult services and vice versa.
Yes, I realize that adding staff is hard to do in these times. Over the years, I’ve been hearing so much about budget cuts, scaling back, doing more with less, etc. In the midst of this doom and gloom came voices of support from patrons, the media, and most important, the community at large. This article comes to mind:
The message is clear: people love libraries, and if we add more value to their experiences, we could win more financial support that could be directed to teen services. Some concrete evidence as to why we should choose this branch of services over others: Over the course of nine months last year, my teen library alone saw 7,053 one-hour computer sessions completed. Most of the teens who logged in this screen time are new to the United States (Portland, ME, has a large Somali and Sudanese immigrant population) and spent it searching for jobs, learning how to get a driver’s license, watching soccer, talking to their family members overseas, and Facebooking.
We have also given teens the opportunity to be creators instead of consumers and explore interests that could become careers. Self-confidence, always a difficult thing to develop, is a goal. The “Make Music at the Library” program allows them to tinker and compose, The end result is a unique piece of art that will be stored forever in our library.
Finally, what I consider the most wonderful thing about working in a library is the connection that we most often overlook because it isn’t measurable: we offer teens friendship and a nonjudgmental ear. Over the past week, I’ve had a number of teens come to the library just to talk to me about life, love, the pursuit of college, and everything in between. They didn’t leave the library with a solid answer of how to move onto the next step of their lives, but that’s not what we’re here to do. By simply listening, we’re giving teens a chance to talk things out.
I sincerely believe that despite our current economic situation, the time to expand library services is now. One of the best ways to ensure that libraries thrive well into the future is to invest in its future adult citizens: teens. So let’s talk, and better yet, let’s act.
Over the past year, I’ve gotten to watch a group of teens that come into the library grow into full fledged hip hop artists.
It all started with The Telling Room, a nonprofit writing center in Portland, ME, and their 2011 program Play. Their amazing Young Leaders and Writersworkshop was the start of a collaboration between three teens (Chrispo, Emmanuel, and Ali) with local hip hop artist Sontiago (aka Sonya Tomlinson).
The group of teens started coming into the library on a daily basis and used our study rooms as their rehearsal space. They would freestyle over beats and furiously scribble down lyrics on scraps of paper. It was through them that I met Sonya and ideas about future collaborations came to fruition. Since the teens were already using the library as a rehearsal space, we couldn’t see why the teen study rooms couldn’t be used as a recording space as well.
The recording happened over two weeks in May 2011. Sonya brought in her 8 track recorder and for a few hours the team camped out in our study rooms. Verses and beats leaked out of the study rooms, and during their time spent in the library creativity flowed through the air.
THE FINAL PRODUCT
Last week, Chrispo came into the library and came up to the teen service desk. He had the final mix of their song all ready to go and needed to get it online. I gave him some extra time on the computer so he could make a quick YouTube video to share it with his friends and family. I’ll end here and let their creation do the talking…
Wouldn’t it be great if libraries could do this kind of stuff all the time?
On Tuesday May 17, 2011, my library had the pleasure of hosting a show featuring the wizard rock band Harry and the Potters. The show itself was awesome: the music was great, the band was super nice, and everyone had a good time.
The highlight for me had nothing to do with the actual show. Instead, it came from the patrons. The first moment where I noticed that this wasn’t going to be just any old program was when I stepped out to announce to the fans that were waiting for the show to start that the band was just sound checking and would be ready shortly. I expected maybe 20 people tops, but the line stretched all the way from our auditorium up into the library proper. We’re talking at least 100 people here, all with smiles on their faces.
Once the show got underway, I stepped up to the mic to introduce the band to the 203 people that came to the library on a rainy, Tuesday night to see this free show. I was greeted with shouts of “I LOVE LIBRARIES” and “WE LOVE LIBRARIANS”. I felt like a Beatle.
But that’s not what I’m trying to get at. What I’m really trying to say is this: the death of the library has been greatly exaggerated. This event showed me that there are people out there that love their libraries. They know who we are and what we do…and they love us for it. Will 26 ebook circulations be the thing that takes away that love? What about when Seth Godin says that libraries are out of date? Are they gonna listen to him? I don’t think so. People will remember you when you give them positive experiences.
I have a feeling we’re gonna be ok.
Here’s some video I took at the event with my phone. Sure, the quality isn’t the best, but I think it captures the excitement of the evening.
As much of a fan of putting together elaborate and unique programs at my library, at the same time I feel it’s good to balance things out with some laid back stuff as well. This lead to my desire to seek out a movie license so that we could show some films. It was a program that could easily happen and at the same time give our teen patrons something to do.
I tried a Random Movie Nightprogram at first. It was probably the least amount of work I put into a program and I had hoped for high results. It wasn’t that big of a success. I’m still trying to figure out why, but I feel like it had something to do with uncertainty. If someone’s gonna make the trek out to the library to see a film, they want to make sure it’s something they’ll enjoy.
With that, my colleague Michael Whittaker and I put our thinking caps on. How could we effectively use this movie license and still keep the program simple? It was Michael who came up with the theme Teens Through Time, a film series showcasing teen movies through the years. Our hope was to show that what people call “teen angst” wasn’t just something that was happening to their generation, but instead a problem that teens have faced through the years. We quickly came up with a list of films we were enthusiastic about and put our creation out into the world. For the full list of what my library is showing during our Teens Through Time series, click here
Students who watch the movies will see that fashions may change but people don’t, and the issues that they are wrestling with have been constant themes.
They also may recognize that, like some of the actors on the screen, they will likely play different roles in the course of their own lives, as they have kids, who also grow up.
The series is a great use of the renovated library facility and should give teens — and adults — plenty to talk about this winter.
So far, we’ve gone through two movies. At the screening of Blackboard Jungle, we had a grandmother, her daughter, and granddaughter show up for the film. The grandmother told us that she had seen the movie in the theater when it came out and that her daughter had seen it on VHS many years later at home. It was the granddaughter’s first time seeing the movie. Three generations of family in the public library, enjoying just one of the many services we offer. Awesome.
No email address or URL was shared, so I thought I’d share the comment here so the person might get some useful feedback – including ideas to welcome everyone into the library without “stricter patron codes of conduct.” I would especially like to hear from teen librarians.
I am currently employed at a library in Kentucky and I must say that I disagree with your assessment that the primary goal of the library should be to just let these actions go on without any moves to correct them. While I do agree that the steps taken are a bit extensive, the fact remains that the primary purpose of a library should be that of a center of learning that is open to anyone who is interested in learning something or attempting to discover something. A library is not an internet café nor is it a place for individuals to gather to place their personal feelings on a social networking website. As librarians, we are taught how to best help patrons discover, use, and understand the items we have on our stacks and we take great pains to offer our services in a kindly manner.
However, the teens, at least at my particular branch of employment, have become the biggest thorns in our side. Despite offering special teen spaces, unique teen programs, and various other opportunities the problems that we started with have remained. In the case of our particular branch the problem had to do with particular teen patrons. These ‘problem’ patrons are often the source of either mischief or, in some cases, harm to others. While there are adult ‘problem’ patrons are most vocal and most confrontational are our teen ‘problem’ patrons. I personally feel that the solution to the problems experienced at your particular library, namely the parking issue among others, are the cause of individual teens who should be removed and I do agree that eliminating it for all is a bit much. Having said that, I completely understand the Library Director’s reasoning on this matter. Furthermore, it is easy to sit outside of a library system and question the judgements from the comforts of a classroom or a home, but when you work for the public on a regular basis you soon find that there are some individuals who complain about just anything and it is extremely likely that your particular Director had some nasty phone calls from irate older patrons who were inconvenienced by teens. In an effort to appease these patrons the Director took an option to cut the snake off at the head.
At my particular branch, there are those patrons who often do complain about the slightest transgressions, be they real or imagined, and they demand immediate responses. In these cases it is difficult for us to act because our hands are tied by a management tactic that attempts to make all parties happy; this flawed way of viewing public relations has created situations where the end result is often a massive over-reaction. The library staff, often eager to find a way to calm down overzealous patrons are often forced to cut off access to certain things in an effort to appease these individuals. This policy of appeasement, much like its earlier 20th century political equivalent, is highly controversial and flawed as you have now seen. The correct solution, in my opinion, is to institute more business like procedures within a library setting and to enforce stricter patron codes of conduct in an effort to ensure that these kind of incidents never occur, thus allowing the teens to peacefully coexist with the other patrons.
Full TTW coverage of the Mishawaka ban is here: http://tametheweb.com/page/2/?s=Mishawaka The policy was reversed a year later. I would also love to hear from the Mishawaka librarians – how is it going these days?