Since I was up for a teen librarian position (which I did not get, sigh…) I’ve been thinking a lot about what libraries do for teens. The library I was interviewing at had a small area by the DVDs that was called the “teen section.” All this consisted of was YA books and magazines and the same hard chairs and tables that were in the rest of the library. There weren’t even computers in this part of the library, and there certainly was nothing other than the reading material to engage teens. This was why the library was hiring a teen librarian (their first). They wanted to find ways to involve teens in the library, to give them space of their own and programs that would interest them. I wish more libraries were so excited about creating space and services for their teenage patrons.
I’ve seen and heard a lot of complaints about teens in libraries. It’s either they’re too loud, they’re not using the library appropriately, etc. I understand their frustrations. Most libraries are not set up with a separate teen room (if they even have a teen section at all), and the teens will often roam the library, disturb other patrons, look at porn on the adult computers (if they don’t have filters), or make a mess. shoe at Librarians Happen wrote something about teens in her library the other day:
It’s the kids that just sort of hang out that are worrisome. But even then, they do come in and use stuff… they just stay and stay and stay, and stay some more. And after their half hour is up on the computer, or their movie is checked out, they seem to not be able to figure out anything else they can do at a library.
I just so hate the term “romper room” in terms of the really appropriate kids. They are using the library, and they have every right to. This is an adult romper room too. Adults just romp differently.
I guess the problem with working in a public building is you can’t really exclude anyone unless they’re blatantly breaking rules… threatening, etc. And most of the wandering kids aren’t threatening each other. (Notice I say most. We have had problems, I think, like every library.) But when do you start stepping on the rights of other people in the building?
Who’d have thunk this was part of being a librarian?
I know Shoe means well with what she wrote (and this certainly isn’t her domain in the library) but I think this speaks volumes about many libraries’ attitudes towards teens. Instead of looking at how to engage these teens (who obviously are looking for something from the library), many are looking at ways to eject them (or shush them). Has anyone ever asked these disengaged kids what they would like to see in the library? What materials would excite them? What sorts of programs or activities would they like to take part in? As a former psychotherapist of school-aged children and teens, I understand how hard it is to engage some teens. But they can be engaged. They want to be engaged. They’d love to have something interesting to do after school rather than roaming aimlessly around the library.
In most libraries I’ve been to, the young adult books are shoved into the youth section, which is really the children’s section and doesn’t look like any place a teenager would want to hang out in. Teens are not children — they really need a space of their own. When I was preparing for the job interview, I looked at a lot of other libraries’ websites to see what they were doing for teens. Some had really impressive programs and web spaces for teens. Anime clubs, ‘zines created by teens, web design classes, book discussions, meditation, SAT prep, gaming groups, etc. Some even had teen centers or teen rooms that were separate and had things teens actually like (computers, listening stations, magazines). I was impressed. But then there were the majority of the libraries I looked at that quite literally had no programs for teens. It was as if people aged 12-18 just didn’t exist. Sure, they had plenty of programs for the little ones and programs for adults, but nothing for teens. And how could libraries like that expect teens to “behave” at the library?
So maybe we need to start asking teens what they would like to see at their library (crazy, huh?). Maybe we need to go into the schools, get advice from teachers, and see if we can form partnerships to provide interesting programs for teens. I heartily applaud the libraries that are already doing a great job with teens and I beseech those who aren’t not to forget your patrons between the ages of 12 and 18. Teens can be engaged and they deserve as much attention (in terms of programs and materials) as any of your other patrons.
Perhaps I sounded too jaded. Most of our kids are good. We have a kick ass YA librarian who does lots of cool stuff with them… Anime clubs, book clubs, summer reading programs, movies, games, field trips, you name it. Believe me, she’s working her tookus off to get them engaged. The group that stays and stays… well, they don’t cause trouble per se, but they don’t want to participate in any of our programs, either. We’re kind of at a loss at how to reach them, if they can be reached.
It’s not even that they’re bad kids… it’s just libraries aren’t where their interests lie and there’s nothing ELSE in town for them to do. It’s sad.
Good luck on the job search, btw!
Thanks for the good wishes! I agree with you that it’s such a shame that the library is pretty much the last place of refuge for some kids. Communities (and not just the library) should be doing more to keep teens off the street, but it just doesn’t seem to be a priority in so many communities (there is also the issue of parenting, but that’s a whole other huge issue). I know where I live, the library doesn’t have teen programs and there really isn’t much of anything in the community either. So what is there for them to do but to get into trouble? Glad to hear there are at least programs for teens in your library for those who are interested. I can understand how you could get jaded when you have a librarian who has tried to do so much with them.
I just found out that I’m going to be a YA librarian at the Fort Washington branch of the NYPL. This is quite a departure for me from teaching adults to use computers. I haven’t started yet, but yesterday, as…
Just a Canadian career YA librarian lurking around and read your blog…you sound like you have just the right stuff to be a YA librarian! Keep trying…we need more caring librarians who can look beyond the rules and really see that these kids are just going through the process of growing up. Sadly only 11% of public libraries have Youth Specialists and only 58% have spearate teen areas…we have a long way to go but the times they are a changin’ and thats a good thing. You will find that those of us who are YA librarians are passionate about what we do. In the world of the public library we will always be seen as somewhat controversial and really need to push the envelope (like all the time!) but its definitely worth it. You can make a difference in someone’s life…sounds trite but its true. Good luck with your job search…