Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

What are the biggest challenges in teen services in the library today?

Last week, I asked other YA/Teen Services Librarians what they thought was the biggest challenges to teen services. You can see the entire thread of responses here:

I was not surprised to see what my fellow librarians were saying in the response as it mirrored a lot of my own experiences. I think the challenges can be summed up in the following ways:


Teens today are over-programmed. School, extra-curricular activities, jobs and more – there are a lot of people making demands on teens. So it seems like when teens have a free moment to spare, they want down time to decompress. They also want the freedom to choose how they are going to spend that time. So over and over again what we see is that it is hard to get teens into the library at specific times for specific programs. And it looks like a lot of the most successful programs are those that emphasize fun, socialization, and the opportunity for teens to engage in some self directed behaviors.

The other side of the time coin is that a lot of librarian respondents didn’t feel that they had enough time to work with teens.


Related to demands on time, today’s teens are overwhelmingly stressed out.Couples with the demands on their time, it’s a stark reminder that teens today don’t have the free time or often the emotional energy to engage in free time the ways that many adults think that they are – or should be. Most of our teens aren’t looking for more programs to make more demands on their time. They are, however, looking for spaces where they can just be, whether alone or with friends.

Administrative Support

For as long as their has been teen services in public libraries, one of the greatest challenges has often been administrative support. Many respondents said that their administration didn’t support teen services because of a lack of understanding of adolescent development or perceived problem behaviors. But this lack of support can also mean not enough space, time or money to effectively engage in teen services. A lot of teen librarians are facing high demands for turn out with out the tools necessary to produce effective results.


Many respondents stated that space was their biggest challenge. Simply put, they don’t have enough dedicated teen space for the number of teens coming into their libraries. On the one hand, this is a good problem to have because it means that teens ARE coming into the library, on the other hand, it can be the hardest to address because space is often a finite resource and adding space or redesigning space is often a high dollar challenge.


There are a lot of people out there competing with libraries for their time and attention. From video games and social media to after school activities and jobs, school and public libraries are not the only entities trying to get the time and attention of teens. Many libraries find that they just can’t compete, this is especially true for smaller libraries that have more limited budgets, staff and time.

In taking this informal survey it was interesting to me to find that the challenges we are discussing today are basically they same challenges teen librarians have been discussing for at least 25 years. Don’t get me wrong, some of those challenges are more nuanced. Social media, for example, adds new layers to many of the challenges discussed above. It’s also interesting to me that the issue of marketing didn’t really come up and I personally find this to be one of the ongoing challenges that most libraries and most teen librarians face.

What are the challenges you are feeling most in teen librarianship right now? And more importantly, what are your approaches to trying to meet them head on. Come talk with us in the comments.


  1. Mary Tanner says:

    I think anxiety is at almost epidemic levels for today’s teens. So much more than it was when I started as a librarian twenty years ago. It affects their being able to concentrate when they need to, relax when they need to, to participate when they would like to. It’s literally sucking the joy out of their lives and I wish there was more I could do to make it better for them.

    • Karen Jensen, TLT Karen Jensen, TLT says:

      I have read many reports recently that indicate that you are not wrong. It has also been my personal experience working with teens as well. I can’t help but wonder what the long term effects of this will be for today’s youth.

  2. Teens/high school students do need to experience places of peace, collaborative work space, socializing, and productive work because they are stressed and filled with anxiety. The library can be this place. Funding often goes to the classrooms before the library. Obtaining funding to maintain and create spaces that students can use during the school day in the library is a constant need. As is a budget for book purchases. It would be great to have another adult working with me in the library so that I could interact more with students. One person is spread pretty thin in managing physical space, curating reading lists, creating reading displays, — doing what is needed to make the library a place students want to visit. I love working with the students and listening to what they think they need to do for an assignment or their ideas about a book they have read. The library offers untold value to the people that use the space and resources.

  3. Kathy Mulholland says:

    “My” teens also seek workable/practical ways to meet their “volunteer hours” obligations for NHS/NJHS, religion, scouts, school service-learning assignments, or high-school “work-study” assignments. Many are among the “over-programmed” set, and I spend significant time customizing service opportunities that are differentiated to meet those individual needs. For example, a high school NHS student who needs to volunteer 10 hours a month is also likely in several extracurricular clubs, sports, and probably also holds-down a part-time job. A teen like that “receives” our services by our giving that student a workable and worthwhile volunteer job that isn’t just “busy work” to rack up the hours.

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