Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

What Does Customer Service to Teens Look Like in the Library?

I was recently asked an interesting question:  what should customer service to teens look like in the library?

The truth is that customer service to teens should look the same as customer service to any other library patron looks.  Every library patron who walks through the library door should get the same high quality and friendly service regardless of race, gender, disability and yes, age.  Your library should have one and only one approach to customer service and it should apply to every one.  Anything less then consistent, quality customer service to all patrons is both discriminatory and bad for business.

Hopefully your library has a strong emphasis on customer service and provides routine training.  If it doesn’t, discuss putting some training in place with your administration.  And as your library’s teen services representative, make sure you are a part of the planning and decision making in your library to make ensure teen teen interests are represented in the discussion.  Some library policies, like obtaining library cards and Internet use, can be more complicated with the teen audience.  You want to make that the unique challenge of teenagers are at least considered in the discussion.

So, what should good costumer service to teens look like?

It should be friendly and approachable

Every patron that walks through your library doors wants to feel welcomed and valued.  Staff should be friendly and approachable.  Smile.  Interact with patrons in a professional and courteous manner.  As part of your training have staff think about their positive and negative customer services experiences.  Ask them what made those experiences stand out in their minds.  As you discuss and outline these experiences you will come up with positive and negative examples of costumer experiences.  By having staff reflect on their own experiences, it will help them realize the hallmarks of good customer service.  The golden rule of life applies to customer service: treat others as you would want to be treated.

Remind staff the importance of good customer service because customer service is PR.  Patrons are much more likely to go out and share their negative experiences with 7 to 10 people.  This type of negative PR is very hard to counteract and your best defense is a good offense; make sure patrons walk out of your library with nothing but good experiences to share.  Today it is easier then ever to share one’s experiences.  Many teens have Facebook or Twitter accounts and all it takes is for a teen to get online and share with their 200+ friends that “Generic Public Library HATES teens”.  But we can also use this to our advantage by giving them reasons to share their positive library experiences with 200+ friends.

It should be consistent

A good starting point for customer service is to make sure your library has policies and procedures in place letting staff know how to handle a wide variety of patron interactions and ensure high quality, consistent services to all patrons.  The consistent implementation of policies and procedures helps both staff and patrons understand expectations and decreases the hostility that can arise from miscommunication.  Consistent policies and procedures also help ensure that the patron’s experience will be the same regardless of what staff member they are interacting with; when they come in on Friday and see staff member A they will get the same experience as when the see staff member B on Tuesday.  In addition, they will see the patrons around them being given the same high quality service and being asked to meet the same patron responsibilities.  The fastest way to create negative patron experiences is for the patron to see other patrons being given service that they are not.  Patrons – including teen patrons – like to have clearly defined expectations from behavior in the library to Internet use.

It should be informed

Helping staff understand teen development and your teen services goals can help to decrease staff anxiety about teens in the library.  As with all things regarding staff attitudes, communication and team building can help break down barriers and make staff feel more comfortable in serving the teen audience.  Make sure you have a clearly outlined teen services program with a mission statement, goals, and appropriate evaluation measures.  I encourage you to communicate with staff on a regular basis making sure they know about upcoming programs, new and popular books and readalikes, trends in teen literature and pop culture, etc.  With some basic information, some basic tools, in their belt staff will feel more confident when teens approach the public service desk.

To help develop your teen services and communication model with staff check out these previous posts:

The “Be”-Attitudes of Communicating with Staff
Marketing Teen Services to Non Teen Services Staff, Part 1
Marketing Teen Services to Non Teen Services Staff: A Teen Services Plan Example

YALSA has put together a helpful presentation on Guidelines for Library Services to Teens Ages 12-18.  I recommend consulting it as you help put together your library’s customer service model and training packet.

Reshaping Our Experiences

So often when we walk away from a patron service desk we walk into a back office and begin sharing a story about the horrible customer interaction that we just had, forgetting that there were 90 other completely routine ones.  But those negative ones stay with us and we need to process them, to process the stress of it and state our case.  There is a catharsis in getting it out and sharing.  But what if, after we discussed our negative experience, we made it our goal to always follow the negative with a positive.  To make sure, for ourselves and others, that we share ourpositive interactions and remind ourselves that it is more often good then bad.  As I discuss in one of the above mentioned blog posts, part of your regular communication with staff should be an emphasis on positive experiences between teens and the library.  Report statistics, positive feedback, and those stories when I teen came back and told you that they loved the book you recommended.

Reshaping Our View of Teens

When you understand teen development, it is easier to understand why they do the things they do.  Brain research shows that they literally don’t have the biological mechanisms in place to make the same types of decisions that adults do. Again, some of this is discussed in one of the previous posts shared above. When we understand behavior, it is easier to deal with it.  I also recommend making yourself and staff familiar with the 40 Developmental Assets and your library’s role in helping teens obtain assets and grow in healthy ways.  By reshaping the way we see teens, staff can be more comfortable when the clock strikes 3 and you get the after school rush.

Reshaping Our Staff

As we share our knowledge of teens and teen services, we invite co-workers to be a part of our teen services program.  To be a part of the team.  Teambuilding is important because as staff become a part of the team, they become vested partners in providing quality customer service to teens.  It’s no longer you providing customer services to teens, but the library providing quality service to teens.

You often hear teen librarians making a case for teen services by saying that “teens are our future.”  The truth is, teens are also our here and now.  Teens are members of our community with information, education and recreation needs.  They are making important decisions about who they are and who they want to become.  They are forming foundational opinions about the library and its role in their life.  They are deciding whether or not they will be library users and supporters.  If teens walk away from the library today, it will be hard to get them back later.  Today more than ever there is a lot of competition in programming, services, and informational needs.  If we fail to capture and keep our teen patrons today, it is unlikely that we will be able to do so later; make sure your teens feel welcomed and served by every staff member in your building.  And use the powerful force of social media by creating loyal teen customers that will spread positive words about your library.

More About Good Customer Service:
8 Rules of Good Customer Service at About.com
The 10 Commandments of Good Customer Service at About.com
Authentic Promotion: Giving Customers What They Really Want
How to Create a Customer Service Plan
What Do We Mean by “Customer Service” Anyway?

Other tools for you to use:
Visit YALSA.  They have a large variety of tools including some on advocacy and a bibliography of current teen related research.
VOYA, an essential teen librarian tool, often has teen pop culture quizzes that you can use with staff.
Frontline on PBS did a good report Inside the Teenage Brain that you may want to check out.

Marketing Teen Services to Non Teen Services Staff, A Teen Services Plan Example

In the previous note Talking with Non Teen Services Staff About Teen Services, part 1, we discussed the importance of having a Teen Services outline to train incoming staff and use as a background for communicating with all staff. We also discussed how communication is a marketing tool.  The final basic element we discussed was a Teen Services outline; a road map for you and staff that discusses why you do what you do.  A general teen services outline example follows . . .

Definitions
For the purposes of teen programming and services, the library defines teens as anyone entering grade 6 through the completion of grade 12 in accordance with the local school district.

Understanding Teen Patrons
The teenage years are a time of great change. Teens are trying on a variety of roles and determining their identity, they are peer oriented, becoming more independent, and developing a stronger sense of right and wrong. Hormones cause a variety of changes. In addition, research indicates that teenagers use a different part of their brains; they literally think differently than adults do. For information on the teenage brain and how it influences behavior, please visit http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/teenage-brain-a-work-in-progress-fact-sheet/index.shtml

Goals and Objectives of Teen Services

  • To create developmentally appropriate and appealing collections, services, and opportunities for teens in our community
  • To meet the developmental, emotional, social, educational, entertainment and information needs of teens in our community
  • To introduce teens to the library and develop lifelong library users and supporters
  • To provide unique experiences for teens that are developmentally appropriate and provide social opportunities for teens to interact with their peer group. These positive experiences help teens develop positive attitudes about the library.

Programming and Contests
Throughout the year we offer a variety of programs and contests. All programs and contests vary to meet the diverse needs and interests of teens grades 6-12. There is a special emphasis on the Teen Summer Reading Club each summer and Teen Read Week which is the third week in October. (http://www.ala.org/ala/yalsa/teenreading/teenreading.htm)

General Notes about Programming

  • Hands on, interactive programs, such as crafts, games and contests, are more popular than static programs such as speakers.
  • Parents are allowed to stay with their teens during programs. However, younger siblings and adults without teenage children are not permitted to attend to help maintain the safety and enjoyment of teens participating in the program and to maximize the use of limited space.
  • Contests are a type of self-directed program that allows teens to work at their own pace while allowing them the opportunity to explore library resources, develop research skills, and cultivate their talents.

Registering for Programs and Turning in Contests

  • Some programs may require registration. This is indicated on the fliers and all registration takes place at the Reference Desk. Please get complete information, including name, grade, telephone number and how they found out about the program, when registering teen patrons.
  • Patrons are called the weekend before a program to verify they are still planning to attend.
  • If registration is full, up to 10 patrons will be placed on a waiting list. These patrons will be notified the day of the program if space becomes available to them.
  • All contests are turned in at the Reference desk. They will not be accepted after closing time on the date indicated on the contest.

Teen CoffeeHouses
During the school year we offer a Teen CoffeeHouse on Tuesdays after school from 3:00 to 4:30 PM. This has proven to be a popular program in the past. We have an average of 60 teens participate on a weekly basis. Teens are invited to hang out, play games or work on their homework and snacks are offered.

Outreach to the Schools
We endeavor to reach our target audience during the school year through the public school system. This allows the greatest opportunity to reach a large group of teens with the least amount of cost. Some of the ways we utilize the school include:

  • The faxing of announcements to all schools in the county for upcoming programs, etc.
  • School visits
  • Booktalking
  • Working with teachers to produce bibliographies, etc. on specific units or topics of interest to teens or for curriculum support.
  • Teacher services

A Note about Booktalking
A booktalk is a 30 second to 2 minute introduction to a book. A dramatic presentation is used to introduce teens to a book and give them just enough information to make them want to check out the book and find out what happened.

  • A minimum of 3 weeks notice is necessary to schedule a booktalk visit
  • All teachers must talk to the Teen Services Librarian to schedule booktalks

Sample Booktalks:
Coraline
By Neil Gaiman
The day after they moved in, Coraline went exploring. In Coraline’s new house there are twenty-one windows and fourteen doors. Thirteen of the doors open and close. The fourteenth is locked, and on the other side is only a brick wall, until the day Coraline unlocks the door to find a passage to another flat in another house just like her own. Only it’s different . . .

The Giver
By Lois Lowry
Welcome to the community. It is perfect. Everything is under complete control. There is no war, no fear, no pain. And there are no choices. Are you willing to sacrifice freedom for perfection?

What the students say about booktalks:

  • “If it wasn’t for you, I would have lost the opportunity to read a lot of great books”
  • “You inspire us to read”
  • “I liked hearing about the books you brought”
  • “Thanks for bringing us books . . . It really helped us explore our horizons”
  • “You get me involved in books”
  • “Thank you for coming to our school and making the library seem fun to the people that don’t usually go”

Teen Readers Advisory
Teens today live in a very visual age and utilize technology more than previous generations. It is an increasing struggle to attract teens to the print medium of the book. All Reference staff provides basic RA services to teens. You can utilize the RA pamphlets provided in the teen area as well as various resources online. When helping teens select books please remember:

  • Try to provide the teen readers with a couple of choices. Teens who choose books on their own are more likely to read the entire book and enjoy the reading experience.
  • Use terminology such as, “other teens have enjoyed”, “is popular” to appeal to teen’s interest.

Helping Teens Find and Select Books

  • Check on the library blog for reading lists on a variety of topics, including Inspirational fiction, Historical fiction, books for guys and books for girls as well as books recommended by grade level.
  • Read the inside front cover or back cover for a brief synopsis of the book. Be sure to pay attention to the topics of the book and the age of the characters. Books with younger teen characters or middle school settings will deal with situations and subject matters common among this age group. Similarly, books dealing with older teen characters and high school settings will deal with situations and subject matters common among this age group.
  • Take a few moments to look up books you are interested in the library’s catalog. When you find the title you are looking for select “details” and you can find subject headings, a brief summary and sometimes excerpts are provided.
  • Investigate titles by reading book reviews online. Book reviews can be found at Amazon .com or Barnes and Noble.com. Reviews provided are by professional journals, such as the School Library Journal, and other readers, often teens. VOYA.com is a journal that deals exclusively with book titles of interest to teens.

Teen Web Page
Teens today are very connected. The teen web page seeks to be a virtual library for teens in our community. We utilize the following technology to help meet the interests of our teen patrons:

  • The Teen webpage – basic program information
  • The Teen Blog – book reviews, basic program information, photos, links, etc.
  • The Teen Scene Facebook page – announcements of upcoming programs or books, daily communication

Teen Collection
The teen collection currently focuses on fiction, graphic novels and audio books. There is a small, focused collection of teen nonfiction that covers spirituality, friendship and peer relations, crafts, etc. Basic school (academic support) information is interfiled with the adult nonfiction so that teens can find a wide variety of academic resources in one location.

Teens interests and abilities are as varied as any other age group, and our collection reflects that. The library’s policy maintains an adherence to intellectual freedom standards and supports the right of the parent to guide their teen’s reading selections, as stated in the library’s policy. If there are any concerns about materials in the teen area, please follow the library’s materials challenge policy.

Merchandising (Shelving) in the Teen Area
Teens are visual and we strive to maximize our face out displays to promote materials and increase circulation.  Please see the following training sheet to see what the teen area should look like.

A merchandising example from Marion Public Library
Marion, Ohio

Miscellaneous Information about Teen Services

  • Parents are responsible for helping their teens select appropriate books. The Library does not endorse specific titles, nor does it act in loco parentis.
  • If you notice that a lot of teens are requesting a book title or asking for specific types of information to complete an assignment, please pass this information along to the Teen Services librarian. This information is useful to us in collection development, the future development of programs and the development of research aids such as pathfinders and booklists.
  • If a teacher, school or organization calls enquiring for services we do not currently offer, these requests will be evaluated on a case by case scenario depending on time and resources. Please refer these calls to the Teen Services librarian.

Your Role is an Important One!
Every day you will have the opportunity to interact with teens; you help shape their experiences in and opinion of the library.  Please take a moment weekly to review the Teen Scene newsletter so you know what we’re doing and how you can help us.  We are happy at any time to answer any questions or address any concerns.

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!

The “Be”-Attitudes of Communicating with Staff

Training staff to understand and work with teens is not a one time affair, but an ongoing process. After you have your initial service plan and training module in place, you should develop an ongoing communication tool to keep all staff informed about teen services.
Just as you must market your services to your teens, you also have to market it to your staff. You have to generate good will, buy-in and support.  Every staff member will have opportunities to interact with teens (or the parents of teens) and you want them to have the tools for a successful encounter. Plus, there is nothing worse then having someone in the library tell a patron they didn’t know about a book, resource, event or service – it undermines the message that we are information specialists.
So develop a communication plan and remember it should . . .
Be Informative
Basically, if you are sharing it with your teens, make sure you are sharing it with your staff, too.  Then when teens ask about what they saw online or on display, staff have the answer.
  • Make sure staff know about new and popular materials.
  • Make sure staff know how to address inquiries into current trends: vampire fiction, paranormal reads, what to read if you like He Hunger Games.  Try and share one RA tool made by you or an online site weekly.  Make sure there is a folder of teen links on the library favorites so staff know where to find them when RA questions arise and you are not around.
  • Let staff know about events in popular teen culture: what books are being made into a movie, new music, and more.  Highlight popular people and stories covered in your magazine collection, music collection, movie collection and online.
  • Share campaigns aimed at teens like the It Gets Better project or [delete] digital drama.
  • Share the latest research in adolescent development, technology use and trends, etc.
  • And of course make sure staff know about upcoming events, new resources and services, teen services campaigns, etc.
  • For things like a SRC or a Read Off Your Fines event or a special contest, develop specific FAQs outlining what they need to know including dates and prizes. Save your flier as a .jpeg and put it in your FAQ so staff see what the patrons will be seeing.
  • Find creative ways to share what you’re reading and your reviews with staff, too.

Be Proactive
As information and technology gurus, it is our job to lead the way.  We don’t want to be reactive, we want to be proactive.  We want to know about new trends, services, sites and more so that we have answers when our teens have questions.

  • Keep up to date and share tools often and regularly. Be skimming a variety of outlets you can help staff stay ahead of the information and technology curve, truly showing your teens that the library is THE place for information.  Get together a list of resources that meet your needs and then visit them frequently.  Sign up for RSS feeds, newsletters and FB updates.  Keep your list visible by your computer as a reminder to check them out.  Cover a wide variety of topics: teen literature, teen development, teen culture, music, movies, technology.  Also, be sure that a couple of marketing sites are in your rotation (and sites that are good AT marketing). 
  • Try to anticipate needs, trends and questions before they come up; it is a horrible feeling for staff to think they are the last to know something.
Be Inspiring
  • Pass on positive feedback from teens, inspiring stories – those moments when a teen raves about the library.
  • Keep staff in the know about statistics – book circulation, program attendance. It helps to see growth and positive outcomes. Show staff that the library is meeting the goals that you set.
Be Honest
Sometimes a situation occurs, acknowledge it. Use it as a training moment to refer back to policy and indicate what staff should do in the event that it happens again. Then, because we want to be inspiring, remind staff that a majority of the teens that come into the library are positive, as are a majority of staff interactions with teens.
Be Consistent

Develop a regular format and schedule. A simple weekly e-mail works, or if it’s more your style or better suits your organization, develop a paper newsletter. Whatever method you choose, brand your communication in a way that is consistent with both your library and your overall teen services scheme. Give it a title: Teen News Today, The Teen Services Must List (yes, I am an Entertainment Weekly fan, great communication vehicle), Teen Services Top 10.  Staff should come to anticipate and appreciate your weekly newsletter feed and find that it is a helpful tool.

Be Fun
Occasionally, have a fun staff contest.  Ask staff to share their favorite teen reads.  See if they can complete the latest contest sheet that your teens are doing.  See how they do at the VOYA Pop Culture quiz.  See if they can find the title.  You can modify the same activities you do with your teens and make it a fun mini moment with staff for team building, communication and, again, buy in.

By communicating regularly and frequently with staff, you lessen the need to have those big moments where you have to defend staffing and budget issues for a teen services program. Staff will already know what you are doing, and that you are doing it successfully.  In addition, staff feel valued and empowered by the sharing of information and it creates that sense of buy in; they are more likely to promote, promote, promote without thinking twice because it is second nature.
A Special Note About the Beginning and End of the Year
At the end of each year, put together an end of the year visual report (think data visualization) and share it with staff and administration.  Discuss statistics, goals met, and highlights.
At the beginning of each year, put together an outline of known programming and events: Teen Tech Week, National Library Week, Teen Read Week, Summer Reading Clubs, etc.  And put some goals for the year on paper.  This helps you put the year in focus, is a great tool to share with administrators and boards, and provides a general outline for the staff.  Then, whenever anyone asks – a parent, community member, or a teen themselves – staff can provide positive answers that highlight was an awesome teen program your library has!