School and public libraries can play a fundamental and essential role in helping teens prepare for and move successfully into adulthood. Healthy adolescent development requires creating opportunities for teens to engage in year-round high quality formal and informal learning experiences. While many public libraries ramp up teen services in the summer, or for special programs such as Teen Read Week™ and Teen Tech Week™, many do not provide intentional and sustained year-round teen programs and services. All teens have the capacity to learn, grow, and develop into knowledgeable, caring, and contributing adults, but to do this they must have access to the very best services and programs school and public libraries can offer all year long.
Supporting teens through the formative stages of adolescence is a critical role that many school and public libraries have embraced; however, several societal factors have emerged that impact this role. Libraries need to rethink their current service model and be intentional in providing continuous learning experiences for and with all teens, especially those from underserved groups.
- The demographics of teens has shifted. Today, youth between the ages of 10 and 19 make up 13.2 percent of the population. This population will continue to grow, reaching almost 45 million in 2050 (Office of Adolescent Health, 2016). Forty-seven percent of them are youth of color or indigenous youth (Annie E. Casey, 2017).
- Nineteen percent of youth in the United States live in poverty. The numbers are higher for youth of color and indigenous youth. (Annie E. Casey, 2017). This growing economic disparity limits teens’ extracurricular participation, which has a significant impact on later outcomes and achievements (Wong, 2015).
- There is a growing gap in access to and use of digital media between privileged youth and non-dominant youth, including youth of color and youth who belong to lower socioeconomic groups (Ito et al, Connected Learning, 2013).
- Approximately 6.7 million youth ages 14-24 are disconnected; that is, neither employed nor enrolled in an educational program (Belfield, Levine & Rosen, 2012). These youth often do not have strong support systems from school and/or home. For example, many schools nationwide are hostile environments for a distressing number of LGBTQ students, the overwhelming majority of whom routinely hear anti-LGBTQ language. LGBTQ students who experience victimization and discrimination at school have worse educational outcomes and poorer psychological well-being (GLSEN, 2015).
- Teens are leaving school unprepared for the 21st century workforce, as well as other responsibilities associated with adulthood (Youth Truth, 2016).
- For every young person enrolled in an afterschool program who lives in a community of concentrated poverty, two more young people are shut out of the program, due to lack of resources to meet the demand (Afterschool Alliance, 2016).
Many school and public libraries struggle to support all teens and to address the challenges they face with intentional and sustained year-round activities and services that help them thrive.
School and public libraries frequently:
- Tolerate negative staff attitudes towards teens.
- Plan programs without first seeking teen input, which often leads to low attendance.
- Struggle to create formal and informal learning experiences for teens that amplify youth voice, incorporate community engagement, and focus on high quality outcomes.
- Overlook the positive impact year-round services has on teens’ learning, engagement, and life outcomes, as well as on the library’s perceived value by community members.
Additionally, many public libraries in particular tend to:
- Focus most of their resources, including staff time, for teen services in the summer months.
- Schedule programs to take place in the library, thus limiting participation to those teens who have access to reliable transportation.
- Lack intentionality in program planning by not first considering desired learning outcomes.
This situation is having a negative impact on the perceived value of public libraries. In the 2018 report, “From Awareness to Funding: Voter Perceptions of Public Libraries in 2018,” 36% of survey respondents indicated that “libraries aren’t as important to kids as they once were.” This number increased from 24% in the same survey that was issued in 2008 (OCLC, 2018). The report calls on public libraries to “amplify library resources and impacts for school-age children” because “all public libraries dedicate significant resources to this population, and engaging families is essential to developing future library users and supporters.”
Providing continuous teen services is essential for teens and their families and positively impacts teens by giving them access to the resources and services they need to thrive and grow into productive adults. Year-round services enable school and public library staff to build ongoing relationships with teens, develop multifaceted formal and informal learning experiences that move away from one-and-done experiences to a seamless continuum of learning, and provide opportunities that expand beyond the library walls.
YALSA’s report, the “Future of Library Services for and with Teens: A Call to Action” offers a framework for shifting approaches to teen services that school and public libraries can leverage to provide intentional and sustained, year-round services for and with teens to meet teens’ passions and needs that, for whatever reasons, are not being fully met by schools or other institutions. In adopting a continuous, year-round approach to library services, school and public libraries can give significant value to their community by supporting healthy adolescent development, providing safe spaces for teens to explore their passions, and preparing teens for college, careers, and life.
When school and public libraries choose to focus only on specific, short-lived events like summer learning, Teen Read Week™, and Teen Tech Week™, they are not providing the sustained services that meet the passions and interests of teens or that they need to grow into productive adults. Scattered opportunities for learning and engagement do not give teens the ability to build understanding and skills over time, or to apply the knowledge they’ve gained. As a result, many teens, especially those from marginalized communities and low-income families, lack the experiences they need to thrive today and to be successful in the future.
School and public libraries are a place for formal and informal learning opportunities that support healthy adolescent development, teen interests, and work to help mitigate the issues teens face by providing year-round teen services. To achieve this, libraries must:
- Identify common teen needs and pinpoint when the need is most likely to arise.
- Seek feedback from teens, parents, educators and other adults who interact regularly with teens to learn what teen needs are at different times of the year and use that information to inform program and service planning. For example, if high school students take college entrance exams in the spring, offer test prep courses in the winter.
- Engage with community organizations that support youth to find out the time(s) of year they offer programming to identify gaps the library could fill or opportunities for collaboration.
- Communicate with the school library and vice versa to share calendars and plans to avoid overlap and identify points of need. For example, if schools will be closed for a teacher in-service day, the public library should plan for an influx of teens.
- Track teen library use to identify hours and times of the year that are busiest. Work with administrators to use this data to deploy staffing, funds and resources.
- Address barriers to access.
- Collaborate with school systems and/or appropriate community agencies to secure transportation for teens to the library. For example, a public library can connect with the school district to see if it can be added to the afterschool bus route.
- Advocate for the library to be open outside of classroom hours and evenings and weekends, as year-round teen services require the library being available to teens when teens can use it.
- Arrange for activities and services to take place at locations out in the community where teens spend their out-of-school hours.
- Provide and promote robust online resources for teens so those who have Internet access at home can take advantage of library resources at any time.
- Advocate for steps that will help all youth gain access to online resources, digital tools, and coaches who can guide them in using the tools. For example, speak up for universal broadband.
- Review library policies and procedures to
- Ensure that they do not put up barriers to access. For example, requiring teens to show an ID or sign a behavior contract before using library resources is a clear barrier to access.
- Enable library staff to connect with teens outside of the library building.
- Provide opportunities for teens to deepen their learning.
- Build activities and services for and with teens that enable ongoing impact through multi-part series, recurring sessions, and ongoing engagement on topics the teens in the community have identified as high interest.
- Incorporate connected learning best practices into year-round programs by facilitating the development of hands-on activities that support teen interests and integrate teen voice into planning and implementation, including project-based learning and service learning opportunities.
- Focus measurement on outcomes to demonstrate the impact on teen lives that year-round sustained services for and with teens has on youth and the community.
- Leverage community resources to alleviate the burden of program planning on library staff.
- Actively build relationships with teens and their families and engage teens in the design and implementation of activities.
- Identify local experts who can facilitate activities, teach a workshop, give a presentation, etc. related to their area of expertise.
- Take advantage of programs that can provide volunteers and qualified workers, such as AmeriCorps and the VISTA program.
- Commit to building your own skills in areas of need, such as cultural competence, managing community partnerships, community asset mapping, facilitating learning, and connected learning.
- Create an inclusive welcoming environment year-round.
- Work with co-workers to ensure the whole library space (physical and virtual) is welcoming to teens and uphold a whole library approach to teen services.
- Advocate for teen services training for all library staff to ensure all staff are willing and able to effectively serve teens.
- Review and update as needed documents such as job descriptions and staff evaluation forms to ensure all staff are held accountable for serving teens effectively.
Public libraries serve the entire community, from “cradle to grave.” Adults and young children have access to programs and services throughout the year. Teens need and deserve the same continuous service from their public library as other age groups. Today’s teens, especially those from traditionally underserved communities, need more than intermittent school and public library services and programs to thrive and grow into productive adults and engaged citizens. The paradigm shift laid out in YALSA’s report, the “Future of Library Services for and with Teens: A Call to Action” promotes an approach to teen services that includes intentional and sustained year-round teen programs and services for and with teens. By moving towards a year-round model for teen library services, school and public libraries will enable teens to transition to adulthood successfully. And in the process, libraries will add value to their community and be indispensable.
Library staff who change their approach from planning teen programs and services in isolation to embedding youth voice in the planning process see more success with their efforts and with achieving positive outcomes for teens. The following resources can be leveraged by school and public libraries to help provide year-round services for/with teens:
- Afterschool Alliance - www.afterschoolalliance.org/
- Afterschool Programs wiki page, http://wikis.ala.org/yalsa/index.php/After_School_Programs
- Calendar of Teen Programming Ideas, http://wikis.ala.org/yalsa/index.php/Calendar_of_Teen_Programming_Ideas
- Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), https://casel.org/
- College & Career Readiness wiki page, http://wikis.ala.org/yalsa/index.php/College_%26_Career_Readiness
- College Planning Calendar: a To-Do List for Parents and Students, https://www.merrilledge.com/article/college-planning-calendar-to-do-list-for-parents-students
- Cultural Competence wiki page, http://wikis.ala.org/yalsa/index.php/Cultural_Competence
- Digital Media and Learning Research Hub, https://dmlhub.net/
- A Framework for High Quality Project Based Learning, https://hqpbl.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/FrameworkforHQPBL.pdf
- Idea Book: Libraries for Families, https://globalfrp.org/Articles/Libraries-for-the-21st-Century-It-s-A-Family-Thing
- Maker & DIY Programs wiki page, http://wikis.ala.org/yalsa/index.php/Maker_%26_DIY_Programs
- Museums, Libraries and 21st Century Skills, www.imls.gov/impact-imls/national-initiatives/museums-libraries-and-21st-century-skills/museums-libraries-and-21st-century-skills-definitions
- National Afterschool Association, https://naaweb.org/
- Partnership for 21st Century Learning, www.p21.org/
- Project Outcome, https://www.projectoutcome.org/
- Ready by 21, http://www.readyby21.org/
- remakelearning.org, http://remakelearning.org/
- Serving Diverse Teens wiki page, http://wikis.ala.org/yalsa/index.php/Serving_Diverse_Teens_@_Your_Library
- STARnet - https://www.starnetlibraries.org/
- Teen Programming Guidelines, www.ala.org/yalsa/teen-programming-guidelines
- Teen Programming HQ, http://hq.yalsa.net/index.html
- Teen Programs How-To Kit, http://media.walkerart.org/pdf/wac_teen_kit_booklet.pdf
- YALSA’s Professional Tools, http://www.ala.org/yalsa/professionaltools
- YOUmedia Network Community of Practice, http://youmedia.org/
Belfield, C.R., Levin, H. M., Rosen, R. (2012). The economic value of opportunity youth. Available from the Corporation for National and Community Service’s website at http://www.civicenterprises.net/MediaLibrary/Docs/econ_value_opportunity_youth.pdf (link is external).
Braun, L. W., & Peterson, S. (Eds.). (2017). Putting Teens First in Library Services: A Road Map. Chicago, IL: American Library Association.
Ito, M., Gutierrez, K., Livingston, S., & Penuel, B. (2012). Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design. Retrieved from https://dmlhub.net/publications/connected-learning-agenda-for-research-and-design/
OCLC. (2018). From Awareness to Funding: Voter Perceptions of Public Libraries in 2018. Retrieved from https://www.oclc.org/research/awareness-to-funding-2018.html
Office of Adolescent Health. (2016). “The Changing Face of America's Adolescents.” HHS.gov, US Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved from https://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/facts-and-stats/changing-face-of-americas-adolescents/index.html#race
Wong, A. (2015). The Activity Gap. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/01/the-activity-gap/384961/
YALSA. (2014). The Future of Library Services for and with Teens: A Call to Action. Retrieved from www.ala.org/yaforum/project-report
YALSA. (2015). Teen Programming Guidelines. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/yalsa/teen-programming-guidelines
YALSA. (2017). Teens Services Competencies for Library Staff. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/yalsa/guidelines/yacompetencies2010
Youth Truth. (2016). Learning from Student Voice: Most High Schoolers Feel Unprepared for College and Careers. Retrieved from http://www.youthtruthsurvey.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/YouthTruth-Learning-From-Student-Voice-College-and-Career-Readiness-2016.pdf
-- Presented by Izabel Gronski, et. al. for YALSA and adopted by YALSA’s Board on April 11, 2018