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?
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.
I’ve been thinking a lot about transparency this year. It might have to do with the term becoming a buzz word of some sorts, or maybe because the ongoing discussion concerning Wikileaks in news media. A huge part of me, however, thinks that I came to the conclusion that as a public employee I have an obligation to inform my community about what I’m doing. Nonetheless, I approached creating a 2010 year in review for the Portland Public Teen Library with this idea in mind.
The one thing I realized about annual reports as I created this one was that they can often times be a bit heavy on the positive stuff. With that in mind, I’d like to add a few things that I will be aiming to change in the Teen Library in 2011.
Create a Teen Advisory Board. Involve them in the creation of programs, collection development, and the creation of the year in review.
Have a fail section in the year in review. What didn’t work at the library and why? What can the Teen Library do to improve
A in depth look at how the teen materials and programming budget was spent. Where did the money go? How were grants effectively used?
Stats are good, but be more in depth about the breakdown of age/gender/target audience using the teen library.
All in all, it was a great success. We played video games, ate pizza, had a massive hide and seek game, and just enjoyed life. It’s the best example of what I’m calling the teen “un-program”. With the teen un-program, you have a program with lots of different stuff, you open it up to teens, and…well, just watch the video to see what happens.
I’m usually sitting in bed and using it as a computer instead of a laptop. I would go back to a laptop if I got a MacBook.
What are your favorite apps?
Twitter, ABC Player, Doodle Jump, Tap Tap Revenge 3, Safari
What would you like to see the library do with Ipads?
Libraries should lend them out as ebook readers or portable computers and people could read them in the teen lounge. People could be more relaxed with the iPad in the library.
Do you use it in school? For what?
I replaced my school netbook with the iPad. I use it for notes, create slideshows, and look up things on the internet.
Do a lot of teens have iPads?
I only know one other teen with an IPad.
If not, do a lot of teens want iPads?
At first, they did (especially at school). If I use it outside, people passing me on the street ask me about it quite a bit.
How much do you read on the iPad?
I read a lot of articles on the internet. Ebooks? Not so much. I haven’t purchased any ebooks. I’ve just downloaded public domain books. I haven’t bought any ebooks because I don’t have enough money and I don’t have much interest in them.
What would you like to see the iPad of the future do?
Take pictures, a higher resolution, more storage on the base model (32gb as the first model!), and multi-tasking.
If a teen were interested in the iPad, would you tell them to get one now or wait and why?
I’d tell them to wait because I think the next one will be better. iPhone 4 already makes the iPad obsolete.
Three weeks have passed since the Portland Public Library reopened after a lengthy renovation (which I wrote about here). The addition of a teen area is a completely new idea for the community of Portland, Maine. At first, teens didn’t really understand that this was THEIR space. However, over the last week or so they’ve started to trickle in and discover the space.
So what are they doing? They’re connecting with their friends on Facebook in our computer lab. They’re relaxing and tweeting on their IPads in our teen lounge. They’re using their netbooks anywhere they can find a spot. And don’t worry…they’re reading (on every sort of device be it book, phone, computer, ereader).
My words of advice? Let them explore. Say hello. Let them know you are their friend. Make sure they know that the teen library is THEIR space.
More Teen stuff at the Portland Public Library can be found here and here.