Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Teen Services 101: What Keeps Teens Coming Back to the Public Library?

Today we’re going to wrap up our Teen Services 101 series by assuming that you’ve done the research, created your space, hosted the programs and done the work. With all of that in mind, what will keep the teens that walk into your library coming back? Because that’s what we want, for our teens to keep coming back to the library.

They have to find something they need, want or value

If teens coming into your library and don’t find anything of interest to them, they’re not coming back. And since not all teens are the same, that means we have to have a variety of things available. This takes an investment of space, time, resources, staff and money. Some of the things that teens are looking for include: books, information, access to the Internet, a safe space to be social, and/or fun programming. That’s a lot of ground to cover.

They have to feel valued and respected by the library and its staff

And by staff I mean all staff. From the moment a teen walks through the door to the moment they leave, teens need to be treated well by staff. It’s not enough to have a dedicated teen librarian who respects and values teens. In fact, if at the end of the day when that teen goes to check out they have a bad interaction at the circulation desk, all of our work as teen librarians can be undone. This is why it is important that we work with all staff to break down bias, provide customer service basics training, and work to build positive opinions about teens in the library.

At one of the libraries I used to work at there was a staff member who loathed and detested teens and she made a point every day of positioning herself by the back entrance at exactly the moment when teens would be coming into the library after school and giving them the stink eye. They called her the “dragon lady”. It was a lot of work undoing all the damage she had done when I started working there. It was also a lot of work trying to dismantle her biases against teens to try and get her to stop this behavior.

At the end of the day, library administration should be setting high standards for customer service to ALL library patrons and should be training staff to meet those standards and holding them accountable if they don’t. Everything done behind the scenes is undone if we don’t treat patrons well and every dollar invested is wasted if we aren’t providing good customer service.

See: What Does Customer Service to Teens in the Library Look Like

They have to have a positive experience

At the end of the day, it is total experience that matters. Teens, like any other library patron, want to have positive experiences. And like everyone else, they are more likely to remember, talk about and share the negative experiences. We used to say that for every negative interaction a patron has they will share it with 10 people, but that has dramatically changed because of the impact of social media. One negative experience can be shared online with hundreds of people in an instant. The only control we have over what’s said about us online is to do our part to make sure our teens are having positive experiences so that they have something positive to say about our libraries and staff.

The reality is, even the most dedicated and amazing teen librarian or teen services team can’t do this alone. You need administration buy in and support, you need every staff member to support your work by treating teen patrons with good customer service, and you need the infrastructure to help make it all happen. That’s a big part of the job, advocating for teens and teen services and helping to put these elements into place so that teens have a space and a reason to come into the library, and then to keep coming back for more. And the number one thing you need to make all this happen is the knowledge, passion and dedication to help make it happen. It all starts with you, the teen librarian, but it doesn’t end there.

Teen Services 101

I’m just getting started, what do I need to be successful?

Foundations: Understanding Teens Today

What Do Teens Want from Libraries Today?

The Challenges and Rewards of Serving Teens Today

What Do We Know About Teen Programming

So You Want to Do Teen Programming, but What About the Books?

Friday Reflections: Hispanic/Latino YA and A Discussion with My Teens by Christie G

Christie G and I work at two separate branches for the same library system.  Like most library branches, they each have their own unique clientele.  Christie’s branch, she calls it a “twig”, is a smaller branch that is also part of a recreation center.  It’s a pretty cool set up.  And she has a lot of regulars every day after school.  Christie also has a high Latino population that she serves.  So today she is going to share some of her unique reflections as part of our series on Diversity.
Karen J asked me to write a post on my teens and how they like Hispanic /Latino characters in YA fiction.  And I realized that I couldn’t do, although not for lack of trying.
I live in a RED state.  I work in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood.   I talk a LOT with my teens.  When we’re slow, I sit down with them in the back and we talk.  They come into my office and talk.  We are definitely talkers.
We embrace our cultures.  We cheer on the Mexican soccer teams with the same ferocity we cheer (or more often curse) the Dallas Cowboys.   It’s not uncommon to have mariachi music and dancers practicing in the community rooms across the hall, or quinceneras renting out the gym for the night.   
Yet my teens laugh when I try to talk to them about books featuring Latino/Hispanic teens. 
“It doesn’t fit us, Miss.”
We have Alex Sanchez in my collection, when I can keep him on the shelves.  He is VERY popular for the GLBT content, and either I will find his books hidden behind a plant, or they will go on walk-about (my personal term for missing) for a while, then miraculously appear again, very nicely shelved in their proper place, along with other GLBT YA fiction books.  So it’s not the HISPANIC characters that are keeping the interest up.
I can rattle off authors with the best librarian, and we have some of the books off of YALSA’s Lee por el gusto de leer .  They’ve tried them, laughed, and given them back to me.
“Don’t bother, Miss.  When does the next Rosario + Vampire book come in?  Or do you have that one you were talking about yesterday?  Anna Dressed in Blood?  That sounded cool.  And when is the next lock-in?”
So I asked them what they would like to tell other librarians about those books, and how they would like to be seen.  Most of it was that they’re sick of being seen as a group, being painted with a brush so wide that it encompasses everything and everyone, without looking at the whole.
We’re not all Catholic
We’re not all from Mexico
We don’t all live in violent households
We don’t all have sex
We’re not all in gangs
We play Yu-Gi-Oh
We read
We like THIS library
Then we started talking about what they’d like people to know in general.  My teens are that limbo generation that is getting a lot of attention.  A lot were brought over to the US by their parents when they were small, and so they may or may not be legal.  I don’t ask- I don’t care who you are or where you’re from, if you come in my door and want to use the library, please.  They have little in common with the characters in a lot of the YA books that get published- either the historical fiction doesn’t ring with them (it does with their parents), or they won’t connect with the specific culture, or the settings aren’t right ( really, Miss, they all have cars?!??!).
So we got to talking about what they wanted people to know in general about them.  It got evident really fast that while people can think teens are clueless, they are not.  They have real fears, and real dreams, and don’t know how to achieve them.  And they are really tired of assumptions that others place on them.
·         Just because we’re not from here, doesn’t mean you should treat us like dirt
·         Just because we’re Hispanic doesn’t mean we’re illegal
·         Just because we’re proud of our heritage doesn’t mean we’re not proud of        America; we’re just not proud of what’s going on right now
·         Just because we can speak Spanish doesn’t mean that we can’t speak English
·         Just because look like we should speak Spanish doesn’t mean we do
·         I’m scared to register for the Dream Visa because what will happen when it’s over
·         I’m scared what would happen if I registered for it (the Dream Visa) and then it got revoked
·         I don’t know how I’m going to get to college
So why do my teens read?  They read to get away from things.  They can’t do anything about their situation right now because they are in limbo.  They’re waiting for outcomes that they have no say in, but have everything to do with their future.  So they read to escape, and in order to escape, they need to connect.  And my teens, unfortunately, haven’t connected with the books that I have for them.  Maybe I just haven’t found the right ones yet.
Karen J asked me to write a post on my teens and how they like Hispanic /Latino characters in YA fiction.  Maybe I should just get my teens to start writing their own books instead.

More on Diversity:
Racial Stereotyping in YA Lit: a reflection by Stephanie W
Race Reflections, Take II

My Journey as a Teen Blogger: Guest post by Aneeqah

I’ve said it before and I will say it again: the best way – the very best way – to serve teens well is to know them, spend time with them.  And to spend time reading their blogs! There are some amazing teen bloggers out there reading books and sharing what they think.  We’ve talked before to Marissa and Jasmine from Beneath the Moon and Stars, now meet Aneeqay from My Not So Real Life.

Before I go on and on talking about myself, I thought I would thank the fabulous Karen who has graciously invited me to write this post. You are fabulous, Karen, and we all know it!
Visit Aneeqah’s blog My Not So Real Life
My name is Aneeqah, and I am a teen with a passion for reading. And I’m here to tell the story of how I became the avid reader that I am today.

My love of reading started in 2nd grade, really. I had a fabulous teacher who encouraged me to read. She is actually now a librarian and you can find her on her blog The Brain Lair. You’ll find that she has a huge part in my story. Anyways, moving on. My teacher, Ms. B, was always giving me new books to read, and I flew threw them. After 2nd grade, I started going to a new library right in my area. The librarians there helped me find books to read. Two series that I was a huge fan of when I was younger was the Abby Hayes series and the Warriors series. I loved both these series to pieces. I used to reread them over and over again. That’s where my original love of books came from.

While I read quite a bit, it wasn’t a whole lot in reality. That all changed when I came into 6th grade. Remember that teacher who I was talking about, Ms. B? She was now a librarian at my new middle school. She gave me more and more books to read, and I joined the book club that she ran. I can’t tell you how much fun I had during those times. My fondest memories are the times where I used to stop by in the library and talk to Ms. B for almost all of my lunch time, just chatting about books. In 7thgrade, we started talking more about the social parts of reading, and she told me about Goodreads one day. I went home and asked my mom for an account, and when she said yes, a whole new aspect of reading was opened up for me.

Suddenly, I had not only a new way to keep track of all my books that I read, but also what I thought of them. And then I started writing reviews. I’m going to be honest, my very first reviews were not pretty at all, but I haven’t deleted any of them because it shows how much I’ve grown, in my eyes.

In short, I fell in love. Goodreads had so many passionate people about books all in one place, and it got me so excited. And I never realized how books there were truly out there, and how many new releases there were. I spent hours and hours just going through books and adding them to my TBR. Pure bliss. I still do it today. It’s a lot of fun, to just waste away hours on Goodreads. [You should try it, someday, by the way.]

Anyways, one day in 7th grade, Ms. B and some members of the book club I was in, were hanging out at the public library on a weekend. [Yes, Ms. B is that awesome. She hangs out with teens on her weekends.] Suddenly, the whole idea of blogging came up. After telling us what book blogging was all about, she told us that she was going to give up blogging. But then, we all came up with the idea of joining her blog as side reviewers [ok, fine, it was her idea, ok?]. We would each have a name for our little section, and we would post reviews occasionally. I was so excited to start blogging, and so was my fellow book club member, Lucy.

Eventually, Lucy and I both became the primary co-bloggers on Ms. B’s blog. I learned about the book blogging world. I learned about how book blogging worked, how to gain followers, how to be polite, how ARCs worked, how to comment well, and how to just generally be a book blogger. The stuff I learned was invaluable. And from it, I also got to know two very awesome people even better than I knew them before, Ms. B and Lucy. These two people are now dear to my heart.

While I was co-blogging on Ms. B’s blog, I had to move to another state. I had to leave the place I had lived for nearly 10 years. I loved everything about where I lived. My beautiful and cozy house, my fabulous book loving friends, and most of all, the fabulous librarian who knew me so well. I was losing it all when I moved. And it wasn’t a type of move where I could visit my friends often. I’m talking about moving to a state 16 hours away. Texas.

It broke my heart. Having all of that taken away is tough, and for a teen who doesn’t know her place in the world, it’s even tougher.

I was heading into the unknown. I can’t say that I’ve totally adjusted to Texas yet, but I know it has its upsides. But more importantly, the move made blogging even more important to me, because I saw it as my way to keep connected with my two closest friends.

After a while of co-blogging on Ms. B’s blog, and after the move, Ms. B one day suggested that I start my own blog. My first response was something along the lines of “Why in the world I do that?!” But the seed was planted. I started thinking about starting my own blog. What would it feel like to do everything myself? To have a blog of my own?

Ms. B encouraged me endlessly, saying that I had a unique “voice” [which you can’t really see in this post, since this one is kind of serious. In my next guest post, don’t worry, you’ll see more of my true sarcastic self!]. So after talking with my mom about it, I started it. At this time, Lucy and I were constantly texting, and I encouraged her to start her own blog as well. 2 days after I started my blog, she started her own as well.

It was also around this time that I went to my first few book signings. I realized how big of a book community there was in Texas. But the book signing that really changed everything for me was the Lauren Oliver signing, where I met the fabulous Karen and Marissa, who are both book bloggers. I realized that there were so many bookish people in my area, and that we really got along well together. Karen has been encouraging me so much with talking about my bookish thoughts, and Marissa and I have talked endless times on Twitter. I can honestly say that I definitely have found 2 new close friends that I hold dear to my heart. It gives me hope that Texas isn’t all that bad.

And that’s how I started blogging. That’s my story.

I’m going to apologize if this post is super long and everything. I warned Karen beforehand that this was going to be long and rambly!

Teens Got Talent: Empowering Teens and Creating Buy In

Sometimes trying to find creative library programs that will interests teens is difficult, but there is a great resource for us that we don’t offer consider: the teens themselves.  Teens are singing, acting, making short films, designing web sites, making models and so much more.  They have talents and hobbies that they want to share, so give them a place to do it.  Go beyond an American Idol type program or a talent show and allow teens to share their talent – whatever it is – and create a dynamic, ongoing library program for teens, by teens.

Tired of trying to come up with program ideas, I declared 2005 the “year of the teen” and let my teens do the programming.  I went beyond a teen advisory board and canvased my community to determine what talents my teens had that they wanted to share.  I created an application with a deadline, selected the programs, met with the presenter, developed publicity – and then let the teens do all the work.  One teen shared how to make recycled Capri Sun purses (before you could buy them in the store), another teen shared about her travel experiences, and more.

The great thing about this type of programming is that it really taps into the 40 developmental assets (http://www.search-institute.org/content/40-developmental-assets-adolescents-ages-12-18).  It basically expands on what we try to do with Teen Advisory Boards and takes it to the next level: it’s not just a group of 12 or 20 giving program ideas but is open to any teen in the community.

Allow your teens to take ownership of your teen programming, be creative, and increase participation; allow them to share their gifts and talents with other teens in an attempt to provide creative, developmentally appropriate teen programming that also recognizes that teens are peer oriented while demonstrating how the library can help teens grow in their interests and abilities through the use of information services.  Almost any topic a teen will want to present on, you should have support materials in your collection – be sure to put them on display.

Example Slogans:
Teens Got Talent (take this moment to tie in with popular shows like America’s Got Talent and American Idol)
You’ve Got Talent – Share it With Us!
Celebrate you!  You’ve got interests and talents – share them with other teens. 


  • To expand your services to teens in the community
  • To provide innovative, creative teen programming by providing a forum for teens to express themselves and share their talents with their peer group
  • To meet the developmental needs of teenagers to express themselves proactively while utilizing the importance of peer influence and recommendation as a great asset in publicity and promotion
  • To use teen interests to promote the library collection and services

Phase 1:  Application of Teen Participants

Set an application period for teens to submit a program idea regarding a hobby, talent or experiences they would like to share with others.  Teens will have to submit a sample for tangible items, such as crafts, hobbies, etc. or a letter of recommendation for talents such as singing, acting, etc.  Or have them audition privately in a meeting with you.
 Needs for this phase:

  • Application
  • Permission form (?)
  • Publicity

Phase 2:  Programs for Teens Presented by Teens

From these applicants we pick one teen for each month (or each Friday, whatever time frame works for you) to present a program.  Meet at least once with each presenter before their program to make sure they have it all together and go over any ground rules (language, length of time, etc.).  In addition, you do all publicity and support materials.
Needs for this phase:

  • 1 overall poster highlighting all of the programs that have been selected
  • Individual program fliers
  • An individual meeting time for each presenter (approximately 30 minutes)
  • Program/presentation checklist for each presenter

Program Cost:

  • Staff time
  • Traditional publicity and support materials
  • Traditional program costs of materials or snacks depending on the nature of the program

Promote, Promote, Promote
Not only is there benefit to the teens when doing this type of programming, there is benefit to the library as teens become your promoters – they are going to want their friends to come.  They will hand out fliers for you, promote it on their social networking sites, and more.  Including teens in this way creates stronger buy-in, and teen buy-in increases word of mouth promotion, which is your most successful type of promotion.

With the popularity of reality shows, especially talent shows, the time is right for this type of programming.  Tap into the zeitgeist and let your teens shine!

The Disney Channel has a really good example of this with their video features, TTI (The Time I . . .)  If you can’t do live programming, definitely ask for video submissions that you can share over your webpage and Facebook.  If you do live programming, make sure you record it so you can also generate these video snippets to share.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pKM39idF1Zo]

Library Bootcamp

Reach out to your incoming 6th graders now and help them develop the library skills they need by creating a library book camp, reel them in to your teen services program and really catch their attention.  In the fitness world, boot camps are popular – so let’s take it a step further and help teens get fit minds, too. 

This is a great way to transition younger users to your new teen services and area, to get them invested in the program by helping them know how to navigate the area, and to let them meet teen services staff and start building those essential relationships.  This is a fun way to make sure teens learn basic information literacy skills. 

Getting Organized:
Determine what you want teens to take away from your boot camp.  I recommend the following 3 basic areas (think stations on an obstacle course to keep with the boot camp theme):  Navigating your teen area, Navigating the catalog, Navigating your library databases.

Enlist the help of staff, you’ll need a lot to make this work.  You will need at least 1 staff member for to be the instructor for each obstacle course station and you will need about 3 platoon captains so you can divide the students that come that day into 3 platoons to alternate between the stations.  So we’re talking a minimum of 6 unless the teachers bring assistants to lead the teens from station to station.

Pick a time, I recommend the first 2 hours that you are open so that there are less people in the library to be disturbed and there are more open Pacs.  I also recommend setting a finite window that teachers can sign up for, which will depend upon the number of schools you serve.  When you send out your packets to the teachers be sure to indicate that they can call from x amount of time to y to sign up for spots at 9 am during the weeks of September 6 – 30, for example.

Get an advertising packet together:  Write a letter explaining to your teachers what you are trying to accomplish, what the benefit is for the schools and the students, and highlight how it can provide curriculum support.  In addition to a letter, put together a very attractive, very visual brochure to sell the bootcamp to the teachers and administrators.  I recommend both approaches to reinforce the message and reach a wide variety of brain types, some teachers and administrators will respond better to a formal letter while others will embrace the visual.  Always try and communicate your message in multiple ways to reach the greatest number of people, what works for one person will not work for another.

Develop a basic scavenger hunt that will include questions (let’s say 5) from each obstacle course stop.  Put it together in an attractive one page sheet (not too long, you don’t want it to be intimidating or look too much like school work).  During your bootcamp you are not only training your teens on basic library skills, but you are selling yourself (your library and your teen services program) by showing that the library is fun.

How it will work:
When the students come for the day, divide them into 3 groups.  Each group is given a leader who will take them from station to station.

At each station they will be given a basic overview and then an opportunity to explore and do hands on activities that will allow them to answer the questions on the scavenger hunt sheet.  You are looking at 20 minutes per station.  Plus a 10 minute introduction and a 10 minute wrap up, minimum. 

After the teens have rotated through all 3 stations, get everyone together and share the correct answers.

Don’t let them leave empty handed:  Have a raffle for arcs or leftover SRC prizes that you have hanging around, hand out bookmarks and fliers for upcoming events (be sure to have one coming up soon after their visit).

Sample Boot Camp Questions:
What is the call number for Twilight?  How many different formats is it available in?
Tell me the name of a graphic novel series available in the teen area?
What library database would you use if you needed a magazine article on social media?
How many items in the library have the word “zombie” in the title?  What is the most recent addition?
I need to know how to survive the zombie apocalypse, is there a handbook for that?
Name an author who writes both adult and teen novels.
How many posters are on the wall in the teen area?
Name an upcoming teen program?

This is the layout I did for a 30 day online scavenger hunt.  You can do the same type of layout for Bootcamp Bingo.

I can’t take credit for this idea myself, it is an adaptation of an awesome program put together by the staff at Washington Centerville Library in Ohio and from my time working with them I can tell you that this is a great program.  It may take a couple of years to get all your teachers on board and fill up your slots (and work out the kinks), but don’t give up – it is worth it.

You can also set this program up as a once a month program with open sign up to get all the teens in your community trained in library skills.  Have a monthly or quarterly library bootcamp.

Note: I picked 6th grade but it may be 7th grade for some libraries, depending on how your program is defined and arranged and how your local schools are arranged.

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 . . .

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:
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.


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!

A Teen Programming Primer

At some point or another, as a teen librarian, you may find yourself having to talk to staff and administrators about library programming.  Sometimes you may have to address funding issues.  Other times you may find yourself having to justify the amount of staff time that is spend developing, marketing and executing teen programs.  And at other times you may have to find yourself helping staff and administrators understand and deal with teen behavior issues.  Despite the amount of time and money that teen programming can consume, and the behavior problems that can sometimes come along with teen programs, it is an essential part of teen services in any public library.  The bottom line is this:  Programming helps teens understand the role of the library, how to use it and its resources, and it helps cultivate lifelong library users and supporters.

Why do libraries engage in programming, including teen programming?

It is a marketing tool that keeps your library visible in the community
Each program you have makes your presence known in the community and communicates the message that your library is a viable part of the community’s educational and recreational needs.  It also communicates the message that you understand, value and respect the teens in your community and are actively providing a way to meet their needs.

It helps bring in new library patrons
Each program is an opportunity for a new teenager to become a regular library user

It helps bring in return business
Each program, especially those in a series like storytimes or Teen CoffeeHouse/Cafes, helps bring in repeat business

It allows libraries the opportunity to build community partnerships
Programs are opportunities to work with various community resources and build partnerships – which most libraries have as one of their primary goals.  You can partner with local businesses and agencies for prizes, share time and financial resources (as well as wisdom and experiences) and piggyback with larger agencies to gain greater visibility.  For example, your local big Brothers/Big Sisters has developed programs that can be done right in your library thus saving you the time of developing a new program; these programs involve financial education, health and more that are based on researched standards and well developed.

It increases circulation, promotes your collection and promotes literacy
As you develop a core teen patron base, your circulation will increase.  In addition, you will have opportunities to better know your teen patrons and learn their reading interests so that you can purchase and place targeted books in their hands.  Since teens are so peer oriented, they will often become your best publicity.  The greatest thing that will ever happen is to stumble across a read that a teen loves and get them to tell all their friends that they have to read this book.  Each program is also an opportunity to highlight parts of your collection or simply display new teen titles.

It helps fulfill important goals and objectives for our community members such as Every Child Ready to Read, the 40 Developmental Assets, etc.
As children and teens meet healthy development requirements, the community as a whole – including the library – benefits.  Healthy community members=healthy communities.
Every Child Ready to Read http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/alsc/ecrr/index.cfm
40 Developmental Assets http://www.search-institute.org/assets/

It helps fulfill your library’s mission statement
Your library should have a well developed mission statement and it should include a reference to programming.  Even if it doesn’t, programming helps meet educational goals, recreational goals and life long learning goals and these are all a part of most library mission statements.

Marketing, Marketing, Marketing
Each program is an opportunity to market your library.  They demonstrate that “wow” factor: here is an exciting event for your patrons to participate in.  And the bottom line is it is easier to market an individual program than to market the all inclusive but abstract value of the library.  An event is easier to market than a concept, but each event can help reinforce the concept theme that public libraries are valuable and exciting.  In addition, by having a wide variety of events, you can increase the variety of marketing targets.  A craft program will meet the needs to one part of your audience while a gaming program will meet the needs of a different part of your audience.

Foundations of Teen programming

  • It is essential in dealing with teens that you understand and respect the teenage years and developmental process.

Not only must you, as a teen librarian, have this knowledge, but you must actively and continually share it with all library staff.  Provide training events that allows staff to understand adolescent development and develop successful strategies in interacting with teen patrons.  These training opportunities should have opportunities for staff to remember what it was like for them as a teen – what they liked, what they thought, how they felt.  As they remember this time it can help them develop compassion and tolerance.  In addition, a variety of role playing events should be included so that staff can practice what they will say to teen patrons and feel more comfortable when situations arise.  If possible, get together a panel of teens to talk about their experiences in the library – both successful and not – so that staff can hear straight from teens what they do and don’t like.

  • Spend some time researching the teenage brain

Research shows that the teenage brain is different than any other age.  Understanding the how and why can help you better work with teens and meet their needs.  There are a couple of good book resources out there that discuss this topic, and you can visit a couple of different websites to help in your research.
http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/teenage-brain-a-work-in-progress-fact- sheet/index.shtml

  • It is important to note key characteristics of teens:

(1)   they are peer oriented
(2)   different areas of their brain are engaged differently then adults, see above,
(3)   they have a belief system of “it can’t happen to me” which results in them taking chances

  • You must spend time immersing yourself in teen popular culture – keep on top of what games they like to play, what music and movies are popular, etc.  Visit popular teen web resources, watch popular teen programs, and browse through your teen magazines monthly.  You can’t serve someone unless you know what they like and want.

Organizing teen programming

  • Structured vs. Unstructured – there should ultimately be a variety of degrees in structure.  Not all programs should be structured, nor should they all be without structure.  Variety is indeed the spice of life.
  • Passive vs. Active – Passive programs allow teens to work in their own space at their own pace.  These can include contests, scavenger hunts, etc.  Active programs have the benefit of being completed in a finite amount of time, bringing teens together with their peers, and have that “wow” factor that demonstrates that the library is a fun, exciting place to be.
  • Audience – middle school teens are often a library’s primary audience because they come with the least amount of competition.  High school students are more engaged in extra curricular activities, relationships and jobs.  This means that you have to work harder to draw in high school students, but it is essential that every library does.
  • Type of program –
    • Gaming – can include video games or traditional board games.  Or get creative and do large scale versions of popular games such as a murder mystery (live Clue) or a human chess tournament,
    • Scavenger Hunts (fun and help teens learn rudimentary library skills),
    • Cafes (least amount of prep and planning, allow teens to be in peer group settings),
    • Crafts (costly, very limited target area, but can promote library collection and provide a sense of satisfaction as teens walk out with something they have made),
    • Speakers (most boring for teens – demand them to sit and reminds them of school – but provides them with important information and very likely to reinforce library services or collection areas),
    • Book clubs,
    • Teen advisory boards (gives teens input, can take a lot of time involvement)

Goals and Evaluations

  • Before organizing a program, determine what your specific goals are: audience, attendance, expenditures – both staff time and money, and what you want the teens to accomplish
  • Have a mechanism in place after a program so that you can determine if you have met your goals and how you can further meet them in the future.


  • Schools – flyers or announcements, here you have a captive audience
  • Local businesses – signs
  • Word of mouth is your best publicity – as you develop teen followers, they will spread the news for you
  • If you have the means, collect e-mail addresses and send notices, get a Facebook page and use the event function and post reminders in your status feed
  • Develop routines so that teens can better predict programming – every Tuesday, the first Saturday of the month, etc.  This eliminates some of the guess work for your patrons.


  • Join a YALSA list-serv (there are several, some are for books and some are for programming)
  • Look at what other libraries are doing
  • Develop relationships with other teen librarians
  • There are several book resources: Patrick Jones, 101 teen programs that work, alterna teens

Web sources:

Teen Services Best Practices and Competencies
A checklist for what you need to know and be as a teen librarian: