Alec Baldwin says, Always Be Outreaching. (Coffee is for outreachers?)

Alec Baldwin says, Always Be Outreaching. (Coffee is for outreachers?)


So, I'm at the Young Adult Library Services Association Symposium, and having that pleasant feeling of plopping into a new community/conversations that still are super relevant and engaging. I've been introducing myself as sorta kinda a teen librarian -- I work with a lot of traditional aged college students in their first or second year, who are often still teens. But, the teen-i-ness is not the focus of my work, and of course, my relationship with students is very different than it would be for a public librarian or teacher librarian.

Some of the themes that have popped up are as follows:

  • Teen services/programs/collections need to belong to the teens. Over the course of the weekend, I lost count of the number of references to YALSA's 2014 white paper, The Future of Library Services For and With Teens: A Call to Action. It appears that teen librarians have really taken up that call, and I heard about successes, failures, and goals to move towards collaborative efforts. On Friday, I attended a preconference about co-designing library services and programs alongside teens. The framework used comes from the work of Allison Druin (PDF), where children are full partners in developing technology -- rather than just asking students what they want, or observing their use, but actually making prototypes together. Presenter Jason Yip noted at one point that this process isn't about giving up your own expertise, but about also recognizing the expertise of the children (or teens, or students...) you're hoping to serve. Anyway, if you find yourself saying "they" don't come to "my" programs or use "our" collections, maybe you need to find a way to better connect and truly collaborate with those users. I also found it interesting that the Teen Advisory Board/Group (TAB/Group) is apparently the norm, but as Jennifer Velásquez noted, "advisory" really shouldn't be the target.
  • Outreach shouldn't be measured against other library programs. One of the most interesting threads throughout YALSA was about evaluation and justification for teen programs. In one session, the presenter spoke at length about how teen programs sometimes get compared to storytime, which is pretty unfair. She noted that parents come into the library and ask when storytime is, not if it will happen. Storytime is one of the core, forever-and-ever programs at public libraries. Teen programs are usually for 13-17 year-olds, a much smaller age range, people who zip through and get busy, and are experiencing huge growth in development and independence. But focusing on the process of co-developing programs with teens, or mentoring and connecting, the impact can be described in more complex ways. One speaker gave the example of a weekly drop-in program that had low-or-no attendance most weeks, but one conversation led to a teen registering to vote and coming back to ask about current ballot issues. Dreamy! I appreciated the consistently firm belief doing what you know works, but willingness to figure out ways to share that story in a way that muckety-mucks will understand.
  • The good stuff takes time. In one session, we heard about both successes and failures from two librarians whose teen groups have down service projects and other amazing programs. At the end of the session, someone in the audience asked, wow this is amazing...but how long did it take to get started? Both of the presenters said, oh, at least five years to get to this place. Another session, focused on programs with/for LGBTQ teens, mapped out partnerships, noting that sometimes just attending an event that is all for adults will still lead to advocacy for teens. (For example, one librarian attended a training for medical personnel, then a support group for trans folks in that institution, then a nurse ended up coming to their library's GSA, and finally the institution started sharing info about library services for trans youth in their. Again: dreamy.) But again, recognizing that process counts means documenting and reflecting, and learning to gauge when it is time to give up on something, or when to just try another round.
  • There are no easy paths to equity, but every step counts. This morning, I went to a session about explicitly building in equity into programming, and I'll be thinking for a long time about some of the questions: How do you know whose voices you aren't hearing? What does equity look like in library services? How do you measure progress in equity? We talked a lot about incremental change vs transformative change, about relationship-building and time. Daunting, but also -- just starting to build that trust over time is movement. In the session about LGBTQ services, one of the presenters noted that, if you can't get gender-neutral bathrooms, but your bathrooms are locked, don't assume you know which bathroom someone wants to use -- hold out all the keys and let them pick. Simple choice, something you can easily train staff in, that builds in autonomy, choice, and respect for all library users.

And, as an outside observer, I want to say, the passion, care, and enthusiasm that I saw was powerful. Not that academic librarians don't care about students, but I'm pondering what it means when people are so absolutely committed to the population they serve. Many academic librarians have jobs where they serve alllllll the people: faculty, grad students, undergrads. The departmental liaison model doesn't necessarily make for librarians who are jazzed about undergrads, you know?

ANYWAYS. I have more that I'm chewing over, but wanted to get this out while it is fresh. Thanks for having me, teen librarians, you've given me a tonne to think about, for specific projects and general philosophy for the teens+ on my campus.