Are They Getting on Your Last Nerve?

If there is one thing that I have learned during my years as a librarian, it is that I will treat teens with respect and I will always require the same from them. I am not their friend; however, I will try very hard to remember their names, always acknowledge their presence, then, try very hard to engage them.

Have you ever had that one teen that arrives promptly right after school, enters the teen space, stakes out his/her territory then proceeds to get on your last nerve?

Teens know when we do not like them. Too often during extremely busy times, we may be inclined to offer minimal service to a teen when there are several impatient adults in line who really just need to wait their turn.  Teens may never approach the desk even when they are in desperate need of help.  Even if some of them love to read, they may not think that is cool for their friends to see them with a book.  It is vital that we step out from behind the desk as often as possible, mingle or just roam in the stacks as time permits. Most of the time, someone needs help but they are terrified of asking because they may have had an unpleasant interaction with a staff member who really does not like teens.

Programming is an essential service that libraries provide for all ages.  Just as it is so imperative that we solicit teen input as we are planning our slate of programs, it is crucial that we engage our teens one-on- one as often as possible.

Consider assisting teens as they are preparing for their college entrance prep by spending some time helping them to navigate the Library online databases that are available to them from home 24/7.  Encourage them to apply for some of those specialized scholarships that are often looked over during the application process.  One student informed me that he had learned of an organization that offered scholarships for tall people (he was well over six feet tall) and he reluctantly asked me if I would consider writing a letter of recommendation for him.   Likewise, offer to write letters of recommendation for that first paying job, or for a volunteer or internship position

Depending on the school district, many teens have to do a certain number of Community Service hours before they graduate, so I offer them service credit if they attend Teen Advisory Board Meetings, if they are participating in a Library Volunteer Program for Teens, if they assist me during a teen program, or if they accompany me on a field trip to a bookstore to purchase items for the Young Adult Collection.  If they are investigating a detailed project to satisfy the requirements for an Eagle Scout Badge, consider contacting your department heads at your library and inquire about possibilities. Always follow-up, then work closely with the individual who will be supervising the teen to iron out logistics so that the teen will know what is expected of him/her.

One of the teens who was working on His Eagle Scout Badge, asked me it there was a project at the Library that he could investigate in order to fulfill the final arm of the requirements for this prestigious award.  I spoke with the Technical Services Department Head and she informed me of the RFID project that was in full swing. She expressed that she would love to have a committed teen to assist as it would help to move the targeted completion date up.   After training and learning the logistics, Andy trained, then, supervised a team of Scouts to assist him. This dedicated group successfully tagged 6, 000 items during two weekends.  When Andy’s parents invited me to speak at his Eagle Scout ceremony, I was so honored and so impressed to be present at such an inspiring event.  After all of the speeches were done, Andy hugged me and expressed how much he appreciated our giving him a chance to fulfill a dream.

I will never forget a day when I dashed into my local Jewel Supermarket to pick up a couple of items before I headed for points west and home.  I was in the checkout line and noticed a tall young man at the register.  He smiled at me, and then asked if I remembered him.  He did not look familiar, so I apologized and said no.  He proceeded to tell me that when he was in the eighth grade, I helped him with his research paper when his class came to the library for a field trip.  He said that he would always remember me because I helped him to find the information that he needed and he was able to get an A on his paper.  He is currently a student at DePaul University. Yes, the tears started to roll down my cheeks.

We have all learned that safety pins that are pierced into strategic parts of the anatomy; pink or purple spiked hair or Jeans that are threatening to fall below the knees at any given moment, does not define an individual. That teen may just be trying to make a statement about finding himself.  We never know when we might impact the life of a teen.  If today’s teens could travel back in time to the last century when I was in high school, they would probably think that I was extremely bizarre.  Let us never forget that weird, obnoxious,  teen who is always hanging out at the Library and getting on your last nerve, may, in just a few short years,  be your doctor, your dentist, your counselor, or your stockbroker.

Teen Volunteers

Many Jr. High and High School students have community service requirements to fulfill for school or church or (perhaps) something less wholesome. If we can come up with some jobs for these volunteers that are interesting and/or meaningful their level of investment will be higher, their perception of the library may change or elevate and you could engage some new or more frequent users.  I just presented at the Illinois Library Association Conference on Teen Volunteers with some super awesome people (Lynn Elam and Tobe Liebert from Hinsdale Public Library, Amy Alessio and Dan Schnepf from Schaumburg Township District Library, and Diane Norris from Orland Park Public Library). If you are looking for meaningful ways to engage your teen patrons, here’s a few ideas:

1. Computer/Tech Mentors – a few libraries are pairing teens with adults to give one – on -one instruction on all things technological. Mentoring sessions could include learning to create a PowerPoint, opening photo attachments in e-mail, setting up an e-mail account and more.
2. Tech Aides – Libraries are also using teen volunteers during busy after school hours, evenings and weekends to help troubleshoot computers, printers and copiers.
3. Readers and Leaders – The Orland Park Public Library trains teens to work with pre-readers using Every Child Ready to Read initiatives as well as hands on multi-sensory activities that encourage pre-reading skills scanning from left to right, letter formation, and narrative skill development. The teens go through extensive training, are given checklists each week to work from and talk with parents after each session about what they worked on with their children.
4. Service Projects for the Community – Schaumburg Township Library District has been particularily proactive with it’s Teen Corps programs ( They create community service projects such as knitting projects to go to new babies and animals in shelter.
5. Service Projects in your Library – You can also use teens to help start/complete projects in your library such as creating youtube videos to promote your collection or give instruction on how to use something in the library, helping with space planning, rearranging/redesigning collections/furniture in you YA Department, and creating promotional flyers.