What My Tweener is Learning About Libraries
Today my daughter officially becomes a Tween. She is in that neverland void between children’s services and teen services that a lot of libraries are still trying to figure out. She grew up going to storytimes and library programs. And of course has a librarian for a mother – I am sure, for the record, that she would tell you an awesome one! She does not necessarily love reading like I would have wanted her to, but she doesn’t hate it either – but she does embrace the value of libraries. She is currently reading the Clementine books and The Wizard of Oz (I count down the days when I can share my favorite teen titles with her). And it is interesting for me to reflect on this day on what a life in libraries has taught this amazing child just entering into her tween years (and no, I am not in any way biased – what are you talking about, she really is amazing!)
Information is a Gift, I Don’t Know is Not an Answer
We spend a lot of time looking things up. She recently asked me what those little nubs on the top of a Giraffe’s head are called (they are called ossicones for the record). I told her I didn’t know and her response was, “well, when you get to work can you get a book and look it up for me?” And she is always asking me to look things up for her on my phone. I think a key message for libraries is reminding tweens and teens the value of information. There is no reason for the answer to a question to be “I don’t know”. Now, more than ever, young people have access to a wide variety of tools to really learn and explore and find answers. As we sell ourselves as information specialist, we must really find ways to communicate this to our audience.
And yet, it is easy I think for tweens and teens to develop a certain complacency. Because access to information is so readily available, it is easy to take it for granted. How can we create environments that stimulate investigation? How do we create opportunities to really learn how to find answers?
I like the idea of “Crave”. We crave food. We crave friendship. I want libraries to help instill in today’s tweens and teens a craving for information: this idea that you can learn more, find more, and do more @ your library. Find opportunities, like Scavenger Hunt and online quizzes, to help tweens and teens discover the joy and fun in discovery.
Technology is a Tool and an Opportunity
When I had to quit my job to relocate my family, my daughter saw that I didn’t have to give up who I was or what I loved. She saw me take the skills I had an be resourceful and still find ways to connect with my professional community (ala this blog); to still participate in something I feel passionate about; and to find ways to expand who I am, what I do and how I do it. More than any other time in history, the world is an open place and you can take and create for yourself a variety of opportunities. So how can we communicate this message to our audience?
Tween and teens need to know that the Internet is more than social media sites and video games. It is a portal to opportunity. They can create, communicate, inspire, network and more. (Of course they must do so safely). And computers are more than just the Internet. They are amazing tools to create school projects, art work, diaries, poetry, and more.
More and more I think it is important for technology to be a huge part of teen programming in libraries. Have a learning lab where teens learn basic technology tools. VOYA had a great article about some resources teens can use outside of slide shows. There are also good print tools available like Web Design for Teens and Blogging for Teens. Make it a part of your daily routine to learn about new technology tools and sites that you can incorporate into programming and share with your teens.
Everything is Bigger than You Ever Imagined
If we are doing our jobs right, kids today learning that the world is bigger than what they see, that they have more opportunities than they could imagine, and they can be do and be more than ever.
Every time my daughter opens a book, she meets a new friend. She learns about a life that is different then her own. She learns to think and hope and dream. She learn compassion and resilience. She learns to open her mind and her heart. Every book read is an opportunity to learn and grow and experience, but in a safe environment. Reading is an essential life skill, but it is also an amazing opportunity.
And if we are doing our jobs right, our kids are learning that they can come to this all in a safe place called a library. Here they can explore who we are, what we believe, and how we want to live. They are learning that they can ask questions and find answers. They are learning that they can get new skills True story: my husband checked out a book from the library and taught himself how to juggle. Probably not a useful skill, but fun. And imagine if every child lived in a home where they saw a parent do something like that. It would really communicate the message that lifelong learning is fun and easy at your public library.
The other day my daughter said when she went to college she wanted to learn French. My response: you really don’t have to wait until college. We can go to the library and start learning it today!
What is Our Message?
So here’s what I am learning from my daughter: if we get the right message to our audience, they will embrace it. She has received the message because we live it. She has heard it again and again and again. And she has seen it in action.
So let’s take the message to our teens: @ Your library you can be more, do more, see more . . . But we can’t just tell them, we have to show them. Give them opportunities to experience the truth of this message. Have tech learning labs, scavenger hunts, creative activities, and more. Fight for libraries in your community and fight for teens in your libraries. Learn about the 40 developmental assets and incorporate them into your programming.
And let me just take this moment to thank you all for bringing the message to my daughter. Because of the hard work of librarians everywhere, my daughter gets to be more, do more and see more . . . and that is a powerful gift.
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About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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