One of my goals for 2018 is to revolve my teen programing around helping teens gain the skills needed to become independent, successful adults. Yes, folks, I’m talking about a year of adulting! To kick off the year, I wanted to offer an intro post as a foundation for what I hope will be a year of sharing the process and progress. It’s also a selfish plea for feedback. No one can (or should) do it alone, so please share all the feels! The most comfortable place for me to start, would be with how I ended up here… It’s a bit long, but I’m hoping it will give a solid foundation on how I built my teen services from the ground up and why I’m taking teen programs in this direction at my branch.
People often ask me (especially since my first name is Silence) if I have always wanted to be a librarian. My response: I didn’t choose this job, it chose me. I was looking for a profession that would challenge me intellectually and creatively, involved working with the public, and that felt personally and professionally rewarding. I didn’t want just a job, I wanted a purpose.
I went to college, I worked, I traveled, and more than once found myself asking the universe what am I doing? I floundered, I explored, and the universe answered. I started working at a book store for extra cash, and there was this constant cycle of people telling me things like “Your name is Silence, that’s a perfect name for a librarian” and “You really like reading / books, ever thought about being a librarian?” My friend and I drove across country and met up with a friend of hers who was going for his MLIS. We chatted about that library life, and it sounded intriguing. Towards the end of the visit, he turned to me and said, “Please don’t take this the wrong way, but you’d make a really great librarian”. Obviously, this was a thing. An unescapable thing.
Universe: 1 Silence: 0
Fast forward to 2011, I am a year into my MLIS, and have landed a youth services librarian position. I’m going to be very honest with you right now. At this point, I had never worked closely with children or teens and I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to. They can be incredibly intimidating. Ever seen the part in the movie Kindergarten Cop where Schwarzenegger walks in and kids are climbing the ceiling and things are insane? Yeah…
On the other hand, librarian positions can be hard to find. When I entered graduate school, I took courses in everything from youth services to cataloging, because I knew that the best way for me to start gaining experience was to be willing to lean in and do what was needed, even if it wasn’t exactly my endgame. So, there I was, terrified with a bag full of books and puppets looking at my first storytime like a woman walking to the gallows. When it was over, I took a deep breath and whispered thank you to whatever forces got me where I was, and still am. From that day on I was all in. Even on my worst days, I love my job and the community I serve. In spite of my inexperience, I somehow landed exactly where I wanted to be.
Universe: 2 Silence: 0 (But I’m cool with it)
Part of my job responsibilities included offering periodic programs for teens, but any other services for that age group were limited. Our system offered volunteer opportunities, but we lacked consistent programing and a designated space for teens, both physically and virtually. It was also a challenge to get teens to come to programs. I wanted to do more for the teens.
I am lucky enough to be a part of an incredibly supportive library system that let me do so, but it has taken time, collaboration, and flexibility. It was a slow process that started with developing a strong rapport with the teen volunteers that helped me with storytimes, and by (somewhat awkwardly) approaching teens who happened to drop in at the library. I eventually got to know a group of teens who felt comfortable enough with me to a) be honest about their feelings about the library, and b) who would try to work with me to make things better. This is where I developed my three rules for teen services:
- I’m not a teen, and I’m not going to try to be. I’m just me.
- I’m not going to tell them what they want or need, I want them to tell me, and cultivate library services to meet that need.
- I’m going to try to be the adult I needed when I was a teen for these teens now.
The most common feedback from the teens was that they didn’t see a place or role for themselves within the library. OK, I knew what that felt like, and I also knew that it took someone to tell me I belonged to get me where I am now. I partnered with a fellow youth services librarian, and we each started Teen Library Councils (TLC) at our individual branches. I meet with my teens once a month for an hour to bond, do fun stuff, and run program ideas by them. It is an “open” TLC, so that means I do not require applications or registration. If you are a teen, and you want to drop in, the door is open. Attendees are typically a 50/50 split between volunteers and teens from the community. It has been a wonderful way for us to balance the constraints of having limited time and staff with the desire to increase services in a malleable way. It also serves as a test pool for new programs, and a great way to get the word out to teens about what it’s like to volunteer or intern with us, the services we provide, and the librarians are rad in their own right. The feedback we receive from our TLCs led us to expanding our TLCs to each of our five branches, create teen spaces, offer formal internships, and now, adulting sessions.
Why Adulting? Why Now?
In a nutshell? The teens asked for it. I started my branch’s internship program in 2014 through the YALSA/Dollar General Teen Summer Internship Program Grant. It was a wonderful and supportive opportunity that showed me how to develop an internship program for teens and allowed me to award a stipend to the two teen interns I took on for the summer. The experience segued into a partnership with our public-school system where I now take on 2-3 high school students as interns in the fall, spring, and summer each year so they can gain work experience while earning school credit. The more I work with my interns, the more apparent it becomes that teens desperately want opportunities to gain skills and work towards independence, but that it is often intimidating and challenging to even get started. Not every teen has the ability to commit to an internship, and many lack the confidence to even try. I wanted to blend the comfort of a known program, my TLC, with the sometimes-uncomfortable process of growing up. It also allows me to test out something new without stressing staff and resources.
The Game Plan:
I polled my teens AND coworkers to see what skills both believe are needed to become a successful adult, blended these together, and came up with 10-12 programs that would teach these teens skills through connected learning. The last thing any teen wants is to feel like they are being talked at, so we will casually learn together by doing. We will cover everything from job seeking to civic engagement, and I’m really excited to tackle this new challenge.
Before I Go!
If anyone has done this before please share any advice, ideas, and experiences, and thank you for sticking with me through this long post! Keep your eyes peeled for our first session which will tackle the art of communication.
Thank you again for reading!
Owls & Vowels,
a.k.a Silence “the loudest librarian you will ever meet” Bourn