February 25, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

YALSA Town Hall: Building Stronger Partnerships

When it comes to reaching out to teen library patrons, partnerships between public and school libraries are absolutely key—but how to make them successful is an ongoing challenge, agreed more than 60 school, university, and public librarians; library staff; and other educational stakeholders who gathered in a virtual town hall yesterday hosted by the American Library Association‘s Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA).

Part of YALSA’s year-long National Forum on Libraries & Teens project, the virtual chat was the first of three planned to broaden the conversation among librarians and educators across the country.

The participants—who hailed from 24 states and all facets of the library community—joined YALSA past president and Linda W. Braun as she tossed out several questions during the hour-long chat, such as whether an off-site event, like a park or community space, can make a library seem less vital. Responses spilled from attendees proclaiming that a library can be both a place and a service.

One participant shared that by having programs out of school, teens are surprised to find their librarian even more cool than they thought. “What I like about off-campus programming is seeing teens back in the library,” noted April Witteveen of the Deschutes Public Library in Bend, OR. “That’s when they really figure out, ‘hey, this nice friendly person works in a library.”

As budgets tighten across the country for both school and public libraries, librarians are seeking new ways to fund programming for their teen patrons—often with fewer resources. Partners can share both the cost and time commitment needed for many events and projects, although as attendees pointed out, librarians sometimes need to adjust their own expectations to make things work, and even “…do things differently than you were planning,” noted Maureen Hartman.

Others agreed, adding that flexibility is crucial when working with outside groups. As Shawna Sherman noted, librarians can also “…learn from partners, see the techniques they use to work with teens.”

Teens can sometimes point the way to better partnerships, added Cherry Hill Public Library’s teen librarian Melissa Brinn, who stated that involving them through teen activity boards or groups, and allowing them to choose partners can be effective. Some popular partnerships highlighted by those at the event included blogging about books on a library’s site for volunteer credit, and even partnering with a college radio station for a podcasting program—one idea Brinn is currently pursuing.

All agreed that it’s critical for libraries and staff to be active and continuously engaged in how to reach teens and provide services, but the chat also focused on what librarians can provide through their own resources versus what can be enhanced through potential partnerships. Braun pushed participants to consider out-of-the-box ideas as well, with those in room sharing programs they do with various film festivals, nonprofit groups like Keep America Beautiful, and local museums.

Ultimately, though, as one attendee shared, as libraries focus on what they believe their young patrons need, they shouldn’t lose sight of what they may truly prefer.

“Teens are always amused at what adults think they’re supposed to want,” said Barbara, a youth service librarian from Albuquerque, NM. “We have a running joke in my teen council about someone who told me once that ‘teens feel threatened by good furniture.’”

YALSA’s second town hall, slated for April 16, will take a look at teen learning environments, so-called maker spaces, and how kids engage with digital tools.  In the meantime, YALSA is encouraging library staff and stakeholders to join the conversation via Twitter (#yalsaforum) and Facebook.

The third virtual meet-up is set for May 21 will a focus on the future of library services.

Lauren Barack About Lauren Barack

School Library Journal contributing editor Lauren Barack writes about the connection between media and education, business, and technology. A recipient of the Loeb Award for online journalism, she can be found at www.laurenbarack.com.