Teen Services 101: What Keeps Teens Coming Back to the Public Library?
Today we’re going to wrap up our Teen Services 101 series by assuming that you’ve done the research, created your space, hosted the programs and done the work. With all of that in mind, what will keep the teens that walk into your library coming back? Because that’s what we want, for our teens to keep coming back to the library.
They have to find something they need, want or value
If teens coming into your library and don’t find anything of interest to them, they’re not coming back. And since not all teens are the same, that means we have to have a variety of things available. This takes an investment of space, time, resources, staff and money. Some of the things that teens are looking for include: books, information, access to the Internet, a safe space to be social, and/or fun programming. That’s a lot of ground to cover.
They have to feel valued and respected by the library and its staff
And by staff I mean all staff. From the moment a teen walks through the door to the moment they leave, teens need to be treated well by staff. It’s not enough to have a dedicated teen librarian who respects and values teens. In fact, if at the end of the day when that teen goes to check out they have a bad interaction at the circulation desk, all of our work as teen librarians can be undone. This is why it is important that we work with all staff to break down bias, provide customer service basics training, and work to build positive opinions about teens in the library.
At one of the libraries I used to work at there was a staff member who loathed and detested teens and she made a point every day of positioning herself by the back entrance at exactly the moment when teens would be coming into the library after school and giving them the stink eye. They called her the “dragon lady”. It was a lot of work undoing all the damage she had done when I started working there. It was also a lot of work trying to dismantle her biases against teens to try and get her to stop this behavior.
At the end of the day, library administration should be setting high standards for customer service to ALL library patrons and should be training staff to meet those standards and holding them accountable if they don’t. Everything done behind the scenes is undone if we don’t treat patrons well and every dollar invested is wasted if we aren’t providing good customer service.
They have to have a positive experience
At the end of the day, it is total experience that matters. Teens, like any other library patron, want to have positive experiences. And like everyone else, they are more likely to remember, talk about and share the negative experiences. We used to say that for every negative interaction a patron has they will share it with 10 people, but that has dramatically changed because of the impact of social media. One negative experience can be shared online with hundreds of people in an instant. The only control we have over what’s said about us online is to do our part to make sure our teens are having positive experiences so that they have something positive to say about our libraries and staff.
The reality is, even the most dedicated and amazing teen librarian or teen services team can’t do this alone. You need administration buy in and support, you need every staff member to support your work by treating teen patrons with good customer service, and you need the infrastructure to help make it all happen. That’s a big part of the job, advocating for teens and teen services and helping to put these elements into place so that teens have a space and a reason to come into the library, and then to keep coming back for more. And the number one thing you need to make all this happen is the knowledge, passion and dedication to help make it happen. It all starts with you, the teen librarian, but it doesn’t end there.
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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