The Evolution of a Teen Librarian and Teen Services at Williamson County (TN) Public Library

Erin Holt hit the ground running when she joined the teen services group at Williamson County (TN) Public Library six months ago. With her ideas and energy, the support of her director and teen staff, and the willingness to let teens drive the programming and focus of “their” library, Holt has been able to create a teen space that has proven to be wildly successful.
ErinHErin Holt hit the ground running when she joined the teen services group at Williamson County (TN) Public Library six months ago. With her ideas and energy, the support of her director and teen staff, and the willingness to let teens drive the programming and focus of “their” library, Holt has been able to create a teen-friendly environment that has become a social gathering place. From the creation of a Teen Advisory Group to Lego Mindstorms programming, the secret of her success is to simply listen to the teens. When I started as the teen librarian at the Williamson County (TN) Public Library (WCPLtn) in July 2014, it was not without previous experience. I had worked with teens at the New York Public Library as a teen librarian trainee while completing my master’s degree in library science at Queens College. My first position at WCPLtn was as a reference librarian, but I missed working with teens, so I jumped at the opportunity when a position opened up in teen services. teen room picmonkey 2014In the last six months, I have increased programming from one or two per quarter to multiple programs per week, with some weeks having daily programs. A majority of my program ideas come from the teens themselves. For example, they requested a lock-in at the library—we made it happen and had 19 teens hanging out at the library on a Saturday night in October. There was a great mix of youth, ranging from neighborhood to homeschooled kids to those who came in from other areas of town. This was a huge accomplishment—we've been trying to connect specifically with the neighborhood teens for years. The feedback from teens and parents was great; they noted how nice it was that they had a safe place to go on a Saturday night. I've also started a LEGO Mindstorm club that meets monthly to build, program, and command Mindstorm robots using MAC software. The club allows the teens to consistently learn and help one another regardless of skill levels. It's a terrific program that is gaining more popularity with the addition of a local Mindstorm mentor, a professor from a community college, to offer guidance and expertise for the teens. In the coming months, we’ll be hosting teens from a nearby LEGO League to give our club some tips and tricks about LEGOs. At the Selfie Station

At the Selfie Station

A wonderful Teen Advisory Group has been organized as well—the members play a huge role in our programming ideas, online presence, and in-house promotions and marketing. By the close of our first meeting in August, the teens had created a Teen Tumblr account, Instagram account, and enhancements to our Selfie Station (where teens can take photos of themselves with a variety of props), all in just over just two hours. Since that initial meeting, we've revamped our in-house signage at their request, and added various manga, anime, and other fiction titles to our collection. The teens are currently working on creating a Facebook page for the teen department and generating content for our library blog. Think that’s enough? There’s more! We recently kicked off our very first Teen Artists Club event (another idea from the teens) and hosted Julie Hedlund and illustrator Susan Eaddy whose book My Love for You Is the Sun (Little Bahalia, 2014), features illustrations involving clay and photography. Their presentation focused on book publishing and the teamwork involved in writing and illustrating a book. The next Teen Artists Club is scheduled for February 17 and we will be hosting make up artists from the Aveda Institute who will come in and give makeup demonstrations, tips, and tricks for making yourself into art. We also recently launched a Drawing Station in our teen area where there are always colored pencils and a sketchbook available for teens to create their own art that we then post on the wall in the Teen Room. This has gained huge interest and we're hoping to get a drawing expert in for our March Teen Artists Club. The goal of the club is for teens to learn from seasoned professionals in various art forms, and to hone their own artistic abilities in whatever format they find inspiration. In November, we hosted our first-ever Skype program with a representative from Tumblr in New York City. He not only gave us insider information about the microblog platform and a virtual office tour, he also spoke with them about the skills and experience needed—many of which they can start working on now—to obtain a position in the field of social media. The teens were so jazzed by the end of his presentation that they all wanted to work there. Concluding the year in December, we had our inaugural Teen Decorating and Ornament Making party. We had a great mix of young people working together to make glitter ornaments, wrap and hang lights, and garland. teens&staff

Youth services manager Julie Duke, teen library assistant Howard Shirley,  teen librarian Erin Holt and teens

I feel that the key to our success is the fact that the focus of the programming has changed. We are listening to what the teens want to do, and making it happen. In just over four months, I and the other teen services staff have made personal connections with the teens, giving them a voice as well as ownership of their space in the library. Prior to our efforts, there was a group of three adolescents who would come up to the Teen Room, get on the computer, and not speak a word to anyone; this went on for several years. By making a connection with them, we have watched them blossom into young adults with amazing leadership skills, participating in our programming, providing ideas for the department, and socializing with others. Lastly, in this transformation, we have connected with a very diverse teen population—kids from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, the homeschooled, students from an elective high school, and even those from outside our city limits. Teens playing with WiiU

Teens playing with WiiU

While WCPLtn library director Dolores Greenwald has been working to update the technology for the library as a whole, she has paid particular attention to our teen department with specific purchases solely for the teens. These include a Wii U and accompanying games, a big-screen television in our Teen Room, Lego Mindstorm core and expansion kits and accompanying software, and an iPod Touch. Soon, we will have Minecraft software installed on the PCs in our section and will be purchasing Mac laptops for teens to use. We are in essence, slowly creating our own makerspace for the department. The teens are incredibly responsive to these developments and have been vocal in what they wish to see as we make these technological advancements in "their" area. Teen Uno Tournament

Teen Uno Tournament

Beyond technology, we feel that the transformation of our teen services department owes much of its success to turning over its direction to the teens, giving them a say in programming and collection decisions. This alone packs a big punch in a world where teen opinions and suggestions are often stifled or ignored. And best of all, our teen room has become a social gathering place, which goes along with the general profession shift as libraries recreate themselves in the digital age.
Erin Holt is a teen librarian at Williamson County Public Library in Franklin, TN.

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