How to Connect with Teens and Make Them Feel Welcome
A friendly staff, welcoming space, technology and interesting programs make your library space a desirable destination for teens.
A safe place where they can study and be comfortable being themselves is important — especially during the after school hours of 3 to 6 p.m. Providing access to books, research and technology resources for collaboration and content creation is essential. Teens want a place for self-guided, interest-driven learning — a place of exploration that is intertwined with sharing and learning from others.
To follow are four things to consider when thinking about your teen space:
1. Librarian Teen Rapport
An ALA Youth and Library Use Study, conducted by Harris Interactive, found that 20% of teens polled would use their local public library more often if it had a librarian just for teens, and 12% said the same about their school library. But not just any librarian will do. They’re looking for a librarian with a welcoming and positive attitude, who is patient and approachable, flexible and open-minded, who has a sense of humor — and can show they care about the teens who visit the library. If you keep these points in mind, and allow your energy and passion to shine through, teens will respond positively and everyone will benefit.
2. A Space to Make Their Own
Many school and public libraries have organized Teen Advisory Groups that are partners in the design and planning of teen library spaces. The degree of decision-making varies, but members routinely give input on the selection of furnishings and accessories, color palette, programming and sometimes even web design and content. In some instances, teens plan and host events. Allowing teens to have a say is a fantastic way to keep them engaged, and for your library to remain relevant.
The Yalsa Teen Space Guidelines suggests the space:
- Be comfortable, inviting and open
- Support individual and group use
- Be easy to identify and navigate
- Contribute to a teen’s sense of belonging
- Be active and allow for noise
- Facilitate learning, socializing and creation
- House the teen collection
When starting, it’s important to understand the demographics of your community. What percent of the population are teens or emerging teens? This will help you identify your space needs relative to your total community population. Even if you can’t find all the space you want today, start small and develop a long-term, phased approach.
3. Drawing Teens In
Libraries are catalysts, exposing ideas and thinking that ignite interests. Be prepared to offer diverse programs and activities to see what teens respond to. Providing non-threatening places for personal expression, creation and learning will keep them coming back.
- Fashion Design
- Poetry Slams
- Open Mic
- Book, Movie & Music Clubs
- Themed Parties & Competitions
And don’t shy away from taking your program on the road — go where the teens are, or partner with a local school to host an event. Go virtually “on the road” by creating a video that you post to your web site and/or You Tube. Utilize Skype to connect with schools and community organizations such as the Boys & Girls Club. Once you’ve opened the door with a positive and interesting experience, curious teens will naturally explore other resources and programs.
4. Connecting Online — Going Where the Teens Are
Let’s talk a bit more about the possibilities of taking your library online. A recent study indicates 95% of teens are already there, so an online presence is mandatory. Design your web site with teens in mind. Simple, easy to locate relevant and interesting information and resources is key (this is true for any age group). Create opportunities for engaging with your site through book, game, music and movie reviews. Your web site should be a reflection of your teen space and service philosophy. And remember to include mobile devices! A Pew Internet Study indicates, “77% of teens age 12 to 17 own a cell phone, and 13% of those 16 and older have visited library websites or otherwise accessed library services by a mobile device.”
Summary: Experiences Beyond the Book — Libraries for Change
Mizuko Ito of the University of California, Irvine, led a three year study of 700+ youth that uncovered the depth of learning associated with teens “Hanging Out,” “Messing Around” and “Geeking Out.” Her research forms the basis of the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning initiative which has now funded 24 Learning Labs in 18 states — including Youmedia, ARTLab+, Quest2Learn schools and the DreamYard Project. All sites focus on the specific community needs and work with organizations and mentors to connect and inspire youth to become innovative thinkers and self-directed learners. Fifteen of these sites are led by libraries and nine by museums.
These ideas and concepts are a great place to get started. As you talk with teens, you may find that you come up with ideas of your own! For further inspiration, here’s a partial list of school and public library spaces designed by Demco Interiors.
Waupun Public Library
Lawrence Public Library
Saugerties Public Library
Flushing Public Library
Queens Library — Far Rockaway Branch
Roberto Clemente Middle School
Mission Vista High School
Penn Yan Academy
North Haven High School
- Using Technology to Connect Public Libraries and Teens, Susan Aplin, M.W., San Jose State University, January 8, 2013, SLIS Student Research Journal
- Learning Labs: Transforming Youth from Digital Consumers to Creators, Margaret Glass
- Teen Space Guidelines, PDF Download of the 2011-2012 Teen Space Guidelines, www.ala.org/yalsa
- Teen Spaces, The Step-by-Step Library Makeover, Second Edition, Kimberly Bolan. ALA Editions