Libraries Provide Teens with Important Life Skills | ALA Annual 2017

During a panel at the ALA annual conference, librarians suggested ways to help teens learn lessons on everything from cooking to money management.

Elizabeth Tanner

Being aware of one’s credit score, learning not to give a fist-crushing handshake, and discovering recipe options other than ramen may not sound like the kind of lessons one would pick up at the library. But with few schools teaching basic skills, such as money management and cooking, libraries are stepping in. “Life Hacks: Survival Skills for Teens,” a panel held on June 24 at this year’s American Library Association annual conference, provided guidance for librarians curious about finding new ways to meet the needs of their adolescent patrons. “In the last three decades, the skills required for young adults to succeed in the workforce have changed drastically, but the skills emphasized in schools have not kept up with these changes,” said Elizabeth Tanner, teen services coordinator for the County of Los Angeles Public Library, quoting the YALSA paper “The Future of Library Services for and with Teens: A Call to Action.”

Erik Berman (Photo by Adam Padilla)

Tanner cited a Pew Research Center study, which found that 90 percent of Americans agreed that communication skills are crucial for children to get ahead in the world. Soft skills, such as the ability to get along with others, are particularly important, she stressed, and to that end, many libraries have begun offering relevant workshops. Tanner described her library's Adult 101 program, supported in part by a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services. The initiative offers sessions on topics such as etiquette, public speaking, and personal safety. Erik Berman, teen librarian at San José (CA) Public Library and a Library Journal Mover & Shaker, underscored the practical impact of programs that teach basic skills. Seventy percent of the attendees at San José Public Library’s “Life Skills Academy,” which offers sessions on cooking on a budget, preparing for college courses, and moving into an apartment, reported improvement in knowledge, while 50 percent said they felt more prepared to cope with the challenges of adulthood.

Kayla Marie Figard (Photo courtesy of ALA)

How can librarians offer similar programs? Kayla Marie Figard, teen services librarian at the Belmont branch of the San Mateo County (CA) Library, advised librarians to tap local partners in order to keep costs down when seeking teachers for workshops. The head of a credit union, she said, could teach a course on finance, while a representative from a Toastmasters club could head a session on public speaking. “Know your teens, know your library, but stretch your legs,” Figard suggested. Being aware of factors such as patron needs and staffing availability is important, but so is taking chances. “It doesn’t need to be heavy,” Figard added, noting that there were also plenty of opportunities for fun, such as decorating piggy banks during a session on money management or holding a pizza party to teach dining etiquette.

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