Assignment X: Advocating for Teens at the Library
Last semester, my professor for Materials for Young Adults shared an appalling story. She shared how a librarian she knew eliminated the teen section at a library and stopped buying reading materials to discourage teens from coming to the library. What is it about teens that makes people so afraid of them? Is it because most teens are rowdy? Are teens too big of a distraction to be in the library? I questioned the role of information professionals and the core values the American Library Association stands for in providing service to all when hearing this story. Isn’t the library a place for all to come together and encourage patrons to be a part of their library’s community?
Professor Michael Stephens illustrates a crucial point in his book, Heart of Librarianship: Attentive, Positive, and Purposeful Change, “The era of participation culture demands that cultural and informational professionals play an active, visible role in our communities” (2016). Information professionals need to cultivate a culture where patrons are active contributors within the library institution. Centralizing on teens in the context of participatory services and transparency, information professionals must support young adults to be these contributors and to be the ones to have a say in the evolution of the library. However, teens are overlooked in terms of offering input in library decisions, which highly has to do with being misunderstood.
Teens often get a bad rep for being complicated and rebellious human beings who are impossible to get along with. In 2002, PBS released a TV documentary series, Inside the Teenage Mind, which explores the minds of teens. The series explores the teenage brain and teen behaviors. Dr. Charles Nelson, a neuroscientist at the University of Minnesota, studies the brain development of teens and why they behave the way they do. Dr. Nelson reveals that teens enter a second developmental stage in their life. The first stage occurs when babies are 18 months old, and the second is during their teenage years. Their prefrontal cortex is still developing, and their behaviors are constantly changing (Spinks, 2002). So, what does studying the teen brain have to do with the participatory and transparent culture in the library? It is worth mentioning because I think understanding teen development is resourceful for librarians to grow stronger relations with teens. Teenagers are learning to navigate this colorful and complex world. They are still growing and sometimes don’t grasp why they feel or behave the way they do and are ostracized for their behaviors. Librarians have a responsibility to help teens feel appreciated and understood. When librarians break these barriers, the doors to participation and transparency amongst teens open at the library.
Why is it important to advocate for this particular group to be actively involved in the library and to establish a trusting relationship with them? I root for teenagers because this group creates a sensation of creativity and invincibility that is inspirational. Especially with the new technological advancement our world has incorporated, teens are using their skills to make an impact. In 2015 the San Francisco Library Public Library (SFPL) heavily involved its teen group in the new improvements in the teen section. Teens involved in the construction of the new area attended board meetings, had ideas about space, and commented about funding (Constanza, 2015). These teens were able to see the fruits of their labor. Teens were pouring into this new space to interact with advanced gadgets and do their homework.
Movements like the SFPL are transformative. The staff here are demonstrators of being transparent with the teens in their community and encouraging them to be crucial participants in decisions that impact the future of the library. When librarians take the time to develop relationships with teens, the culture of participation and transparency grows. Librarians can be a part of the change to raise up a new generation of gatekeepers of information by providing teens with access to resources and programs and helping them find a voice within the community.
As a future youth service librarian, I hope to build strong connections with the teens in my community. The library is a space for patrons to express and build themselves up, which includes teens. Teenagers have many barriers placed on them by society and are misunderstood. The library should be a place to help teens knock down those barriers and uplift their voices. Learning the value of participatory services and transparency will help me value and be of service to teens in the library.
Constanza, K. (2015, August 28). In San Francisco, teens design a living room for high-tech learning at the public library. Youmedia. https://youmedia.org/news/in-san-francisco-teens-design-a-living-room-for-high-tech-learning-at-the-public-library/
Schnobrich, J. (2018, January 18). Together now [Photo]. Unsplash, Las Vegas, United States. https://unsplash.com/photos/2FPjlAyMQTA
Sincerely Media. (2020, August 28). Teenagers [Photo]. Unsplash. https://unsplash.com/photos/Lt_rFkfGnjU
Spinks, S. (Writer & Director). (2002, January 31). Inside the Teenage Brain (Season 2002, Episode 11) [TV Series Episode]. In D. Fanning & M. Sullivan, (Executive Producers), Frontline. PBS.
Stephens, M. (2016). Heart of librarianship: Attentive, positive, and purposeful change. ALA Editions.
Dear Jocelyn, I love your passionate defense of teens in this blog post. I agree with you that core values of our public libraries is too make everyone feel included and that traditional library setting have been in many cases antagonistic to the buzzing energy this life stage emits. Some of this relates to the institutional fear of change which was covered in our early material. Teens happen to be willing to challenge existing stuctures which can be scary for some people. I personally love being around young people who challenge my internalized isms and allow me to see things in a fresh and dynamic way. It’s the reason college towns are usually very cool places to live or visit. Teen have the pulse of our culture and if they find our libraries unwelcoming or boring, well then, they are probably right. Did you see the Mindspot video? I found myself cheering outloud. Cheers to your future youth advocacy!