April 20, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

SLJTeen Live! 2016: Panels on College Readiness; Snapchat; Instagram 101


How can teen librarians reach their patrons? Though teenagers’ needs may be more complex than ever, there are plenty of tools available to make the process easier, according to several panelists who spoke at SLJTeen Live!, recently. In the panel discussion “College & Career Readiness,” librarians covered a plethora of topics, from leveraging technology, to meeting the needs of students with special needs, to addressing anxieties about the future.

The power of Pinterest


K.C. Boyd

For K.C. Boyd, lead librarian at East St. Louis School District #189 in Illinois, Pinterest has been a strong resource. After learning about the potential of the photo-sharing site at a professional development workshop, Boyd began using Pinterest with her students, many of whom are reluctant readers and who live in challenging neighborhoods or communities. She found that they eagerly were reading “pinned” articles on subjects such as how to deal with a difficult roommate and how to survive the first year away from home.

Curating college resources

Elizabeth Kahn, a library media specialist at Patrick F. Taylor Science and Technology Academy in Avondale, LA, also highlighted the importance of technology. She serves students who are bright, motivated, and who may be the first in their families to attend college. Because the school has only one guidance counselor, Kahn’s help has been crucial.

“About year or two ago, a counselor got a grant and bought a slew of new books…and the kids still didn’t check them out. I know the kids need information, but they’re not going to print resources,” she said. So Kahn stepped in, creating a page on the library’s website devoted to college readiness. She uses LiveBinder, the digital tool for educators to curate content, including links to AP, ACT, and SAT prep resources and information on scholarships. The value of LiveBinder, Kahn said, is that educators don’t have to start from scratch; they can easily take an existing LiveBinder and customize.

Technology assistance isn’t the only way Kahn helps, however. She points students in the right direction when it comes to their college essays, provides support, and doles out advice (one student learned that by going to school out of state, he could save $9,000 a year). “It’s important to be the sounding board that your students need,” she said. “Yes, they can talk to the counselor, but sometimes they can reach you faster.”

Emotional needs matter

Similarly, Monica Tolva, a library media specialist at Vernon Hills (IL) High School, finds that meeting the students’ emotional needs is just as vital as providing them with information. At an event where seniors spoke to freshmen about upcoming school and career plans, Tolva noticed a particularly agitated student asking a senior how she had decided on her career path. “That is a student who’s anxious…who thinks everyone else has it all figured out and they don’t,” she said. “So that’s the kid that I want to help in my high school.”

Instead of asking students what kind of job they want, Tolva said, we should be asking them what kind of real-world problem they want to solve. “We need to help them learn their focus so they can learn about what interests them—what things make them passionate.”

Databases can point the way

Libraries, she added, are in a unique position to help students address these questions: “This has library written all over it.” Tolva regularly encourages students to use databases, such as Cengage Gale’s Global Issues in Context and NewsBank, to get them excited about current events, and she also relies on print materials to spark passion. For example, “You give somebody the book I Am Malala, [and] they are standing up for a girl’s right to an education. How about Positive, about a girl who is HIV positive and had to stand up for herself? Eliot Schrefer writes a great series about endangered and threatened primates.”

Addressing the needs of ELLs and specialneeds learners

For Sara Frey, a library media specialist at Plymouth Whitemarsh High School in Plymouth Meeting, PA, supporting her students’ college readiness and career goals means meeting the needs of a variety of learners. She works with English Language Learners (ELLs) and special needs students. Because it was difficult for her school’s ELL teacher to keep up with all the students in the building, Frey took an active role, establishing a group that meets in the library three times a week to go over things such as school procedures and family problems, as well as college and career goals. The students can take electives including career and financial management and internship pathways, and Frey often works with them to help them hone writing and interviewing skills.

Frey also discussed the resources available to special needs students. In the career exploration course at her school, she assists pupils in a semester-long research project on a single career that they might be interested in; at the close of the course, the students engage in mock interviews. In addition, Frey is involved with a life skills program, where students work on different skills in the library depending on their needs, from sharpening pencils to greeting patrons at the circulation desk. “It [gives] them a taste of real-life work, but with the support and structure that we’re able to provide in the school setting.”

Meeting teens where they live

For these professionals, meeting students where they live is crucial to conveying information. Similarly, the librarians on the “Instagram and Snapchat 101” panel discussed ways that these popular, youth-oriented resources can be leveraged by libraries to find new and innovative ways of reaching out to teen patrons.

Alanna Graves, teen librarian at Cape May (NJ) County Library, covered the ins and outs of the Snapchat app that allows users to post content that disappears after several seconds. Eighty-six percent of users are between ages 13 and 34, said Graves, which makes it ideal for libraries seeking to remain relevant to young people. How can libraries utilize Snapchat? Graves offered many enticing suggestions. She often provides behind-the-scenes looks at the library, showing pictures of a storage unit where they keep backlog copies of books, for instance. She’s also employed the app for brief booktalks and to promote events (for instance, showing an image of her setting up an Xbox for a video game night).

Graves cautioned against certain activities, though. Following patrons back isn’t advised, for instance; it can make teens feel uneasy. Graves also warned against posting too much or putting up dull content that will turn off young people. Because Snapchat can be used only on mobile devices, she emphasized that libraries will need smartphones or tablets.

Overall, the librarian stressed the positives of using Snapchat. Because it’s more private than other apps or platforms, staff can use it to discuss potentially sensitive information. Graves posted content related to LGBTQ books. “A teen may feel uncomfortable coming to you saying, ‘I may be questioning my sexuailty and I want to read a book about that.’ I try to push books that a teen may be embarrassed to ask for” but that they should still know about. And it’s been encouraging kids to step out of their comfort zones.” One boy asked Graves to help him find books featuring female superheroes because she had booktalked Ms. Marvel on Snapchat.

Instagram ins and outs

Molly Wetta_TN

Molly Wetta

Last up, Molly Wetta, collection development librarian at Lawrence (KS) Public Library, provided a primer on Instagram. As with Snapchat, librarians use Instagram to personalize the library a bit, through photos of staff members or images of what librarians are reading. It’s also a way to reach teens where they live.

“How do you remind kids about programs? They don’t look at fliers, they don’t read emails,” Wetta said, and sometimes they even forget about events that they’re looking forward to. She added that posting about a program on Instagram about an hour or two in advance was a great way to get teens to attend.

Wetta stressed the importance of posting different kinds of content, rather than, for example, lots of book covers. She mentioned some recent photos she had posted: an image of her and a colleague doing a scavenger hunt for a summer reading program, pictures of the teen advisory board T-shirts, photos of setup for an event. It’s important to “get that variety, so you can appeal to everyone.”

These panels and other SLJTeen Live! content can be accessed in our archive.



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Mahnaz Dar About Mahnaz Dar

Mahnaz Dar (mdar@mediasourceinc.com) is Assistant Managing Editor for Library Journal and School Library Journal and can be found on Twitter @DibblyFresh.

Empowering Teens: Fostering the Next Generation of Advocates
Teens want to make a difference and become advocates for the things they care about. Librarians working with young people are in a unique position to help them make an impact on their communities and schools. Ignite your thinking and fuel these efforts at your library through this Library Journal online course—April 24 & May 8.