Teen Librarian Toolbox
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Serving Full T.I.L.T.: Sharing Stories to Make the Case

I’ve been to a lot of workshops, lectures, and conferences over the years. I’ve heard perspectives from and philosophies of many different librarians and educators. I’ve learned a lot. But the points that have really stuck with me and become part of my daily practice are not based on the statistics or the research findings or the philosophies. They’re based in the stories.

This is not to say that statistics and research and philosophy isn’t there too – it’s that what draws me to the numbers and best practices is the personal connection I find in story. When we share the stories of our teens, when our monthly reports and requests for funding include not just numbers and expected outcomes but the stories of our teens, they will carry more weight.

Sharing stories is not the sole domain of librarians. Every State Of The Union, every graduation speech, every product or professional keynote and greeting card ad you’ve ever seen has likely included personal stories, because sharing stories is a strategy that works.

Five Storytelling Steps

Marketing guru Nick Reese talks about the five step formula for telling a compelling story to sell a product. These are the same five steps that we can use to advocate and justify services to teens in our libraries. His steps:

  1. Identity – Who you were when you started your journey?
  2. Turn Against the Status Quo (TASQ) – What did you want to change about your prior identity / world?
  3. Struggle – What did you struggle against as you started to create change?
  4. Insight – What unique tool or insight did you gain that made overcoming this challenge easier?
  5. Resolution – Who are you today and who do you serve?

It’s a common path in storytelling, but here’s how it might look when we use these steps to talk about teen services:

1. Identity

This is Jason. He’s been coming to the library since he was a little kid, but now he’s twelve, and lately he hasn’t been in as much. He doesn’t really know where he fits. He’s not into the craft programs or book club – he has other interests.


Jason is interested in technology, and there aren’t that many other opportunities in the community for him to work on this for free with his friends in the time between getting off school and his parents getting home from work. He likes having autonomy, and he wants to do more with his time than just hang around.

3. Struggle

Since Jason isn’t permitted to have friends over when his parents aren’t home, they started meeting up at the library. You might have noticed that we’ve had more kids in our computer lab over the past several months – you can certainly hear the difference afterschool, and I know a few of you have had complaints from adult patrons who feel their space and routine are being unfairly disrupted. While getting a bunch of his friends together in the computer lab to work on their JavaScript game was a solution for Jason and his friends, it was clearly not optimal for the library, as it was creating a different set of problems for a different group of people.

4. Insight

Our teen services librarian noticed this was happening and realized an opportunity. Teens had already identified the library as a place for connection, collaboration, and technological advancement. They had determined – on their own – a good time for this work. Our librarian worked with Jason, who had emerged as a real leader, to determine the needs of the group, and was able to convince them to move into the meeting room where she could also provide them with afterschool snacks.. This was a teen program served up on a platter, but the best was yet to come.

5. Resolution

Now the casual group has grown to a regular afterschool club. The teens that come work together on coding projects, encourage one another, and enjoy the special projects and opportunities that feature into their club time once a month. Seeing an additional opportunity in these very helpful, very enthusiastic teens, our teen librarian has also set up a cross-generational tech support team wherein the teens help seniors as they navigate their new devices, be they laptops, phones, or tablets. In his own words, Jason says, “All I wanted was a way to hang out and work on this game with my friends. But this is, like way better. People know who I am here, and last week even, this lady came in with a new ipod and told me I’m a genius ’cause I got her set up on Instagram so she could see pictures of her granddaughter. It’s pretty cool.” Jason is proud of his charter membership in both groups, and we are grateful for his peer leadership, proud to support him, and eager to see what will come next.

 Why Stories

Stories humanize the numbers. Stories resonate and stay with our audience much longer than a list of numbers. Stories support numbers that aren’t as great as we might hope they could be. Stories allow us to incorporate the narrative pieces that we need when describing the Asset Building we are doing. Stories illuminate the very valid needs, experiences, and successes of diverse and minority populations that might otherwise be outshone by larger groups. Stories work to explain teen development and behavior that can be confounding to those in other parts of the library.

There is a push in library advocacy to tell the stories of libraries. I love this. But if we want teens stories shared with our communities in hopes of garnering their support and participation, it is our responsibility to make sure teen voices are heard. Encourage and support teens as they share their stories with the stakeholders in our organizations: marketing and PR staff, department heads, directors, and Trustees. Coach them and help them know that their voices are important before they speak at board meetings. And even if you have the most active and articulate teens out there, be sure that you are speaking for them where and when they cannot.

Serving Full T.I.L.T. series:

January 14 By the Numbers, making the case for teen services using basic demographic information (Karen Jensen)

January 21 Sarcasm, Spice and Everything Awesome: The Developing Teen (Rebecca Denham)

January 28 Teen Brain Science 101 (Heather Booth)

February 4 Asset Building 101, How using the 40 Developmental Assets can help us plan and evaluate teen programming (Karen Jensen)

February 11 Diverse teens, diverse needs (Eden Grey)

February 18 Sharing stories, how knowing and sharing the stories of our teens can help make the case (Heather Booth)

February 25 Empathy, remembering what it means to be a teen and how it makes us better teen services librarians (Heather Booth)

March 4 A Teen Services 101 Infographic (Rebecca Denham and Karen Jensen)

March 11 Talking Up Teens: Discussing Teen Services with Library Administration (Eden Grey)

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