Staff vs. Teens: From Venting to Respect

24 Feb

The following was written by Sue Knesel, an American librarian working in Wyoming. Sue originally posted this message on the ya-yaac mailing list, and has graciously permitted me to reproduce her words here.

I started a teen area about 15 years ago now- coming from Children’s Services. We carved space next to the reference area. It quickly became apparent we hadn’t done our team building as the Reference staff was aghast with the noise level, traffic etc… to make a long story short we gathered all staff for an in-service, let them vent, apologized. An adolescent counselor to spoke about healthy teen development (that they travel in packs is healthy – worry about the loner we all love in the library), and where teens are developmentally.

Then we focused on the 40 Developmental Assets and had the whole staff work on recognizing the role that libraries and all staff play when dealing with teens.
We also had a strong message about these are our future patrons and we’d all like to have our jobs down the road. We handed them tools, such as 10 Hints for Working with Teens (Serving Young Adults, Patrick Jones). Part of the day was to write down five good/bad things the staff remembered from being a teen and would they like to be one again – no one wanted to go through that again. We now use an abbreviated version for new staff training. This couldn’t have happened if my administration didn’t buy in that all the staff serves all the patrons and it wasn’t just a youth services problem. We gave them role playing to help them learn to interact with teens and set boundaries that worked for the library, teens and staff. Part of the problem we discovered was the staff had no tools, no input and they were totally unprepared. I was dealing with staff threatening to quit, not mine but other departments’.

Another concern is even if we are nice and respectful towards the teens it only takes one staff person to put the teens off and that is what they remember and they talk about. I had a staff member identified by teens. Teens even figured out when that staff member worked and would not come to the library that night – straight from a parent who was concerned…(that was an issue that almost went to the Library Board).

So, all staff needs to be on the same page, just like I’m sure YA/Children staff serve adults with the same level of courtesy we serve youth. So it needs to go both ways. That was clearly said by my director to get all of the staff’s attention.

As far as rules – I like this quote “Rules Without Relationships = Rebellion”[1] – Our “rules” had input from teen volunteers and they approved them and that is on our signs.

I keep a binder of readings, information and thoughtful articles that I always want my staff to read and it really comes in handy when needing “fact” to educate administration. Below are some articles from my reading binder that might help with your staff.

Some of my resources:

YALSA Guidelines for Library Services to Teens
Somewhere to Walk and Someone to Walk With, Jami Jones VOYA Feb 2007
Teenagers Are Not Luggage: They Don’t Need Handling by Edward Sullivan, Public Libraries [USA] March/April 2001

[1] This was on a piece of paper that came from a long ago workshop and I can’t give credit – sorry.

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