Minding the Gap with Teen Services Underground

Teen services librarians longing for practical yet convivial professional dialogue have found it online in the blog “Teen Services Underground,” which debuted during the American Library Association’s 2015 Midwinter Meeting in Chicago.
TeenServicesUndergroundTeen services librarians longing for practical yet convivial professional dialogue have found it online in “Teen Services Underground (TSU)," a new dedicated online community offering programming and professional development to teen services librarians, which was recently unveiled at the American Library Association's (ALA) 2015 Midwinter Meeting (January 30–February 3) in Chicago. "Basically, [TSU] is a group of teen services librarians or people who deal with teens across the nation," explains Andrea Sowers, TSU founder and teen services librarian at the Joliet (IL) Public Library. "We just wanted to create a community and a website for teen librarians and those who work with teens to come together and get help. We're doing programs, we're doing reader's advisory, we're doing advocacy stuff." The origins of the online community “happened serendipitously," says Sowers, who adds that after hearing about the raves regarding “Storytime Underground," she put the call out on Twitter to spread the word of the need for a similar service for teens. The momentum picked up from there. The website is a collaboration between librarians, much like with SLJ's Teen Librarian Toolbox,” and Sowers is TSU's “Karen Jensen.” Ohio youth services librarian Beth Saxton tells SLJ that after Sowers put out the call, she was one of a group of librarians who joined TSU’s founding core. Andrea Sowers, Teen Services Underground founder

Andrea Sowers, Teen Services Underground founder

That core decides what the site is going to post, and “we have a schedule, taking turns administering the Facebook page," she says. Response to TSU has been robust, according to Saxton. "The page views have been good, people are commenting, and the Teen Services Underground Facebook page is booming. " The TSU administrative team “didn't want to duplicate existing [teen services] resources,” such as YALSA and “Teen Librarian Toolbox,” which Saxton says “do such a great job." TSU's focus is more on the practical, day-to-day doings of teen librarians, continues Saxton, whereas "YALSA has to kind of see the big picture, and TLT is great at raising these issues we need to be aware of as teen librarians and working with youth." She adds that TSU has a more how-to approach. "We're more like, here's the program, here's how we did it, and here's how you can do it." In addition to being another tool in the teen librarian’s arsenal, TSU is focusing on the “lower budget stuff," says Sowers. “We know there are so many librarians who cover ages 0−18, and they don't know how to get the teens, because they have a small budget and are focused on the babies. So we're hoping we can provide the resources to help expand into teens." On the TSU site, there are monthly themes for its "Challenge Monday," for which a topic is selected each month, and community participants are challenged to think about it and participate in back-and-forth. January's “Challenge Monday” theme was centered around knowing your community, and February's is planning for summer reading programs. Interactivity is built in through TSU’s question-and-answer feature, and while “Storytime Underground” features “Ask a Ninja,” “Teen Services Underground” uses “Ask an Agent” as a forum for crowdsourcing answers for reader questions. Another feature of TSU is a monthly “Authors You Should Know” post. “The post that just went live is [about African American author] Jason Reynolds, not just because we need diverse books, but because [his] books are great, and everyone should read them and be aware of these… great books for your collection," explains the youth services librarian. The website has only been live for a month, but the TSU team is already envisioning more purpose-built tools to help practitioner, including short YouTube videos and webinars addressing topics of professional development. "Teen services is always between the cute little kids that everybody loves...and then there are the adults, our taxpayers and stakeholders," says Saxton. "There's this gap where teen services is...we're minding the gap. Visit “Teen Services Underground."
Wendy Stephens is the librarian at Cullman High School in Cullman, Alabama. She has a Ph.D. in Information Science and is the current president of the Alabama Library Association.    

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