By Beth Yoke
Executive Director, Young Adult Library Services Association
Today’s adolescents face an increasing array of social issues, barriers, and challenges that many of them are unable to overcome on their own. In 2013 YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) conducted a yearlong national forum to explore the world of young adults and library services to this population. The report The Future of Library Services for and with Teens: a Call to Action, is a result of the yearlong forum, with funding provided by IMLS. The Call to Action and its Executive Summary provide recommendations on how libraries must address challenges and re-envision their teen services in order to meet the needs of their individual communities and collectively ensure that the nation’s more than 40 million teens develop the skills they need to be productive citizens.
During the forum, several issues rose to the top as being central to the need for libraries to re-think their services for and with teens:
- Teens make up a significant portion of library users.
- Library services and resources for teens are in jeopardy.
- There has been a significant shift in the demographics of teens.
- Technology continues to impact communication methods, teaching, and learning.
- Teens are entering the workforce without critical skills.
The forum also explored the kinds of support that today’s teens need most from libraries:
- bridging the growing digital and knowledge divide
- leveraging teens’ motivation to learn
- providing workforce development training
- serving as the connector between teens and other community agencies
The report outlines several key recommendations for libraries, including these areas:
Audience: The focus is on serving all teens in the community.
Collections: They must be tailored to meet the unique needs of the teens in the particular community.
Space: A flexible physical and virtual library space allows for teens to work on a variety of projects with each other and with adult mentors to create and share content.
Programming: Programs must occur year-round, leverage the unique attributes of libraries, allow for teens to gain skills through exploration of their interests, and measure outcomes in terms of knowledge gained or skills learned.
Staffing: Degreed library professionals should focus on developing and managing teen services at the programmatic level, while face-to-face encounters are made up of a hybrid of staff and skilled volunteers who act as mentors.
Youth participation: Participation should be integrated throughout the teen services program.
Outreach: Outreach must be ongoing and its purpose must be to identify the needs of teens in the community and then work with partners to alleviate those needs.
Policy: Policy should focus on serving teens no matter where they are. The policies should be flexible and easy to update in order to reflect changing needs
Professional development: Professional development plans must take a whole library/whole school approach to planning, delivering, and evaluating teen services.
Now is the time for libraries to join with other key stakeholders and take action to help solve the issues that negatively impact teens and, ultimately, the future of the nation. These challenges are not insurmountable. It is imperative for libraries to leverage their resources to effect positive change and better the lives of teens. In turn, libraries will be providing an invaluable service to their community and position themselves as an indispensable community resource.