Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Teen Services 101: I’m just getting started with teen services, what do I need to succeed?

I frequently get asked to speak or provide staff training. Sometimes I just get email asking for help from staff who are just going into teen services. One of the most frequently asked questions I receive is this: I’m just getting started with teen services, what do I need to succeed? Over time, as I have refined my answer, I think successful teen services touches on 8 specific points to some degree or another. Keep in mind, not all libraries are the same so what works at one location may not work at another. But these are, I believe, some basic elements that everyone doing teen services should look into and consider when deciding that their library wants to do teen services and do it well.

Several YA/Teen Librarians and a handful of Teens help make TLT happen
  1. Foundations
    • Administration buy in/support; if you don’t have it, you need to engage in internal advocacy to cultivate it
    • A clearly outlined budget that includes a teen space, collections, programming, staff & marketing
    • Policies and procedures (the who, what, when, where & why of it all)
    • Goals and objectives (measurable, evaluate on an ongoing basis)
  2. Staff
    • Clearly designated staff who WANT to be doing teen services
    • Comprehensive staff training that touches on adolescent development, your library’s policies and procedures, marketing, and more. You’ll want to make sure your staff understands that when dealing with teens there are firm limits about interpersonal relationships that must be maintained to protect staff and the library while creating meaningful mentoring connections with teens.
    • Ongoing professional development, but what we know about teens and the issues that affect them (and their interests) are always changing
    • Accountability tools in place; make sure you have ways to nurture your employees and help the ones who are not a good fit to move into other department.
  3. Teens
    • Understanding of basic adolescent development, challenges
    • Understanding of basic teen issues (what do we know about the current generation of teens and how does it influence our practices?)
    • Know, understand & incorporate the 40 Developmental Assets
    • Cultivate ways of fostering teen involvement and feedback, both formal and informal
  4. Collections
    • Purchasing, organizing and providing access
    • Weeding
    • Merchandising
    • Reader’s Advisory
    • Collection Audits
  5. Space
    • Distinct and separate from both children and adults, even if it’s just a few shelves
    • Examine best practices for design tips
    • Keep clean, updated and inviting
  6. Services
    • Basic customer service training for ALL staff because all staff with serve and make an impression on teens
    • Service plan/outline (see above in foundations)
    • Evaluate and incorporate online services
    • Evaluating current offerings, continual evaluations for best practices
  7. Programming
    • Investigate known best practices
    • Determine workable programs for each location dependent on size, staff, and budget but incorporating best practices.
    • Incorporate traditional and self-directed programming offerings where feasible; more variety equals more teens served
    • Ongoing evaluation by location
  8. Marketing
    • Train, empower and maintain staff to do publicity/PR for teen services
    • Outreach (school visits, local events, small programs in outside spaces where possible)
    • Investigate using social media to reach teens
    • Remember implicit and explicit messaging; everything we do sends a message to teens about how we value them and whether or not we really want them in our libraries

The good news is that you can find a lot of this information right here at Teen Librarian Toolbox. If you look under the top TLT menu you can find a lot of the how and why under the Professional tab. We talk about teen development and issues under the Teen Issues tab. There are over 100 tried, tested and true teen programs offered under the Programs tab (and even more if you click on the Teen Programming tag). In the past year we have moved more to tags as opposed to indexing, so you’ll want to explore the various tags on TLT.

This outline is just a foundational building block, a sort of Teen Services 101. In part because the details are always changing as we learn more, learn from each other, share best practices and grow. I’ve been working with teens for 26 years now and the basics have been consistent, the outline above has worked for me. But the details, now those are always changing.

What would you add to the outline above? Let us know in the comments.

Additional Resources:

YALSA Teen Services Competencies


Strategies for Successful Teen Services

What I Wish I’d Known About Building Teen Services from Scratch

Teen Librarian Toolbox


Teen Services Underground


School Library Journal


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