Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Marketing Teen Services to Non Teen Services Staff, Part 1

When working with teens, you will run across other library staff members that don’t necessarily jump on board (you know right this very moment a name has come up in your head). But there are things you can do to help them support your cause.
First make sure you have these basic elements in place: (1) a basic customer service plan, (2) the basics of adolescent development, (3) a basic acceptable behavior policy and (4) the basics of your teen services plan.

Basic Element 1: A Customer Service Plan
I am going to assume that you have a basic customer service plan and that all library staff members are trained in quality customer service. And yes, I do know what happens when you assume. But it is important to remind staff that every patron that walks through your doors gets the same quality of customer service regardless of their race, gender – and yes, their age. This should come from the top down and be a regular part of all your customer service discussions. Every patron should be greeted in a friendly manner, every question should be given the same quality answer, and every person who walks through your library doors should walk out feeling satisfied with their library experience. Teens are not just future library supporters, they are library supporters RIGHT NOW and it is their experiences in the library which will make them continue to be library supporters.

Basic Element 2: Understanding Teens
Next, get together a basic fact sheet on adolescent development to help staff understand why teens act the way they do. Why do they always walk through the doors in large, noisy groups? Well, teens are peer oriented and have just spent 8 hours trying to sit still, quietly, in school – but their bodies are not really designed to do this. Do some staff training exercises to get them thinking about what they were like when they were teens. What music did they like? What music? How much time they spent with their friends? How did they feel about adults and authority figures? Keep it simple, no more than a page of bullet points. There is a good overview at http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/350/350-850/350-850.html, but I would condense it down for staff. If you have a college or university in your town, or nearby, you can also ask a psychology professor to come in and give a brief presentation on the topic; I recommend doing this every couple of years as part of your staff training days.

http://stokefis.blogspot.com/2010/08/teenage-brain.html

Basic Element 3: An Acceptable Behavior Policy
Make sure you help administrators develop a good, basic acceptable behavior policy. This should be a brief policy that outlines the overall mission of the library and touches briefly on behaviors that would be a hindrance to others using the library. Your policy should also outline what actions library staff will take. Then all staff should be trained on how to handle difficult patron situations, when they should call the policy, how to diffuse potential problem situations, when to get other staff members involved, etc. It is important for staff to understand that the acceptable behavior policy applies to all patrons across the board, it is not a tool to tame teenagers – it is a tool to help staff achieve quality patron service and maintain access for all by maintaining a comfortable and safe library environment. Again, this is something that should be included as part of your staff training. Have staff engage in role playing activities and learn how to interact with teens in a wide variety of situations. Better yet, get a panel of teens together and having them discuss with staff positive and negative experiences they have had – in your library or in any business – to help them understand what quality customer service looks like to a teenager. Some example policies can be found at http://www.sharonpubliclibrary.org/about_policybehavior.htm and http://www.bpl.org/general/policies/acceptableuse.htm. You can also just google some examples.

Remember, teens actually want and need limits and they respect consistency – so it is important that every staff member deals with problem situations fairly, consistently and immediately. And remind staff that for every problem patron they have, whether teen or not, there are 100s of other patrons that will never cause a problem. We tend to focus on and remember our negative experiences, so your library should make it a practice to focus on and remember positive experiences (we will address this more in part 2); make it part of your library’s daily, weekly or monthly practice to share positive feedback from patrons.

The Wheelock College Library Code of Conduct

Basic Element 4: A Teen Services Plan
Then make sure you have a basic teen services plan in place. This should outline your department mission statement for teen services and demonstrate how it fulfills the overall library’s mission, it should touch upon YALSA standards for teen services and competencies as outlined at http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/yalsa/profdev/yacompetencies/evaltool.cfm. I also recommend that you familiarize yourself with the Search Institute’s 40 Developmental Assets at http://www.search-institute.org/content/40-developmental-assets-adolescents-ages-12-18. The basic premise is that the more of the assets a teen has, the less likely they are to engage in risky behaviors. These are a good framework for evaluating your overall service goals and for community to staff and community the benefit of teen services.

A Basic Teen Services Plan Should Include:
1. A mission statement, which should support the overall library mission
2. Goals – what are you trying to achieve and why; what steps will you take to achieve these goals

A special note about collections: Your library should have a collection development plan and materials challenge policy in place. All staff needs to understand the scope and breadth of a teen collection and be given the tools to address any challenges that may came up.

When you have these components in place, you now have the tools you need to communicate with staff, and to train any newly hired staff. In fact, talk to your administrators and make sure that a part of any new hire training involves sitting down with you and discussing teen services. Also, discuss with administrators the need to have a teen services representative at all management meetings to help ensure that any new policies and procedures that are being discussed are considering the potential impact on this section of the population; children and adults are often well represented on management teams, but I have found there is often a disconnect when it comes to teen services and management. Internet policies, obtaining library card policies, and the use of AV materials are just some of the areas that are interesting areas for teen services librarians.

In Part 2 we discuss developing regular communications with library staff.  Remember, communication=marketing!

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