Teens in the Library: Win-Win Strategies

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The first question in the Children and Teens Twitter Chat was about the problems posed by young people unattended in the library and what should be done about it. As @rebeccasrandall rightly pointed out in the chat, there is a big distinction between kids and teens and library policies concerning young people in the library should reflect this. For the purpose of this post, my main focus will be on the issue of managing teen behaviour in the library.

The problem of unruly teens in the library has been widely discussed and appears to be an issue in many Western countries as reported in these articles:  Monroeville Library Ohio: Unruly teens shatter library quiet, New Zealand library uses sonic device to repel teenagers,  Halifax Canada: Teen Services Emerge as a Priority for the Library  and Grafton Library, NSW: Library may drive out rowdy teens with classical musicSome of the more drastic measures taken to “handle” disruptive teen behaviour in libraries have included locking the library after school hours on weekdays, banning children under 14 during after-school hours unless accompanied by an adult or using sonic devices or music the target demographic doesn’t like as a deterrent.  These measures may be highly effective in keeping rowdy teens away from libraries, however, since modern libraries strive to be welcoming, inclusive community hubs that provide services to meet the needs of their community, shutting out or openly deterring a portion of their community is not a sustainable solution for the betterment of the community as a whole. 

The good news is that I am able to report on a number of very successful strategies for managing teen behaviour adopted by some libraries. When I did my fieldwork placement at Logan Central Library, the regional librarian explained to me that the library had previously had a problem with loud, disruptive, destructive and/or aggressive behaviours of teens, especially on Tuesday and Thursday nights when the library is open until 8pm. The library staff understood that the problem could not be solved by reiterating the library’s behaviour policy, giving verbal warnings, involving the security guards or calling the authorities. The regional librarian was resolute in her opinion that the library should meet the needs of its teenage patrons and saw the problems they were experiencing as an opportunity to restrategize. The library deployed their Young Persons’ Librarian to devise a program exclusively for teens to be run from 3.00pm to 8.00pm on Tuesday and Thursday nights. The program, called ‘Teen Meet’, includes activities such as film making and coding projects, gaming, making music with Garageband, jamming, movie nights and guest speakers. A large meeting room equipped with computers and audio-visual equipment as well as a lounge area is cordoned off for teens to ‘hang out’. The regional librarian stated that the program had, by providing their teens with a sense of belonging and acknowledgement of their wants and needs, changed negative behaviour into positive energy. The library rarely has to deal with unruly teen behaviour now.

Volunteer opportunities that are inspiring for teens have also been shown to turn pack leaders in misbehaviour into leaders in service learning.  For example, the Seattle Public Library’s Service Learning Program assists teens in developing leadership and project management skills by putting their teenagers in charge of some of their programs. The strategy of programs being run by teens, for teens,  has been reported as having contributed to the positive management of teen behaviour. Many fabulous ideas for involvement and empowerment of teens in library spaces can be found on this blog: The Loudmouth Librarian- the noisy messy, unruly adventures of a teen services librarian.  

I understand that in some areas the problems of adolescent delinquency may be very severe and hence the strategies I have reported on may not necessarily be the answer but they certainly seem to be more aligned with the goal of modern libraries to build stronger communities than playing Barry Manilow songs on an endless loop!



Comments 12

  • Hi Lisa
    What a gréât way to solve an issue with tiens – think like they think – and work together to achieve a better result. The blog from the Loudmouth Librarian is packed with ideas for engagement and connectedness, fulfilling the requirements of the current buzzwords for developing programs in community spaces. Solutions begin with observation, analysis and asking the right questions to ascertain what it is the patrons want and need. While Zen gardening may not have been on everybody’s list, sometimes something a little left-field is just what is needed to inspire and promote the library as a funky venue.
    I really enjoyed this, Lisa and wish I could have had a few Classical music afternoons after school at the library I previously worked at.

    • Thanks for your comment, Helen. I love the Loudmouth Librarian’s Blog too! I came upon it a while back and only wished I had been cashed up enough and had enough time on my hands to do my fieldwork placement in Columbia River Gorge in Oregon being mentored by “The Loudmouth Librarian” herself! Such an inspiration.

  • Hi lisa, I really like the idea of inspiring volunteer opportunities for teens. I think it will create the feeling of responbility among them to serve the community in a better way.

    • Thanks for your comment, Amritpal. Being a high school teacher, I have really seen troubled youths turn 180 degrees when given leadership training and opportunities. It’s great to see it’s being done in libraries as well as schools.

  • Hi Lisa, interesting post.

    I think certain communities (such as Logan) could perhaps reconsider open hours on certain days. I think Thursday nights – while it lines up with late night shopping – may not be the greatest time for a library to be open. As accessible as it may be for those who can’t access the library during working hours, perhaps as it has been noted, it may attract the wrong type of audience – who may act as loiterers rather than actual users of the venue. It’s good to hear there are encouraging programs which relate to youth (especially teenagers) though.

    • Hi Liam, thanks for your reply. I was thinking the same thing, re Thursday nights, late night shopping in the suburbs so I asked some staff members at LCC the libraries why the organisation had chosen for the libraries to stay open on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. They were unable to present any rationale as to why these nights had been chosen in particular, but did state that the Tuesday nights had been more of a problem as young adult visitation was usually lower on Thursday nights which they thought was due to teens having an alternative public venue to ‘hang out with friends’.

  • How great to see Logan taking such a positive approach to this problem – it is interesting to see how the same problems can be approached in such different ways with a bit of a change of thinking! There’s another great example of who this was done in the article about Queen’s Library here

    • Thanks Sharee,
      This is a really thought-provoking article which brings home the fact that many modern libraries are ‘More than They Seem’. How libraries are able to adapt to meet the challenges set before in such ‘challenging’ communities is truly inspiring. ‘As libraries are asked to do more with less, being able to adapt is key’. So very true!!

  • Hi Lisa,

    Interesting blog! I think it’s interesting to discuss teens in libraries because teens are often subject to adults trying to control their behaviour in public places – this was an area of interest for me during my undergraduate studies in criminology. I think the way teens are sometimes constructed as problematic, rowdy or trouble means that they are often framed as not being legitimate users of public spaces and policies are often created to control them in these spaces. (These resources are criminology focused and look at how curfews frame young people as not being legitimate users of public spaces – I think some of these ideas might be transferable to other contexts where young people engage in public spaces http://eprints.qut.edu.au/3/1/Crane_syij_article.pdf; http://search.informit.com.au.ezp01.library.qut.edu.au/documentSummary;dn=%20970808610;res=IELAPA).

    Certainly, people of all ages are bound by expectations regarding their behaviour, but I think it’s interesting that so much time is spent on making rules and regulations that particularly target young people. I wonder if young people in libraries are really the loud, disruptive forces of nature they’re framed as? I wonder if they’re really so problematic that special measures must be taken to ‘control’ them. I’m definitely not saying this is your point in your blog – I just think it’s something interesting to ponder.

    I love the idea of including young people in the library by giving them ownership and agency over the spaces they inhabit. I certainly think that as a community hub, libraries should involve their patrons more and this is a really cool way of doing that. It would be great to see young people inform some of the programming in libraries too – there seems to be a deficit of programs for teen aged people in libraries when compared to other demographics. Perhaps instead of regulating their use of the library with policies and procedures, including them in the space might make for better relationships and engagement all round.

    Thanks Lisa 🙂

    • Hi Kylie, Thanks for your reply. I agree that including young people in how library spaces should be used to better serve their needs is important and that policies and procedures regulating their use of the library may seem inhibiting. However, rules and regulations are important and need to be adhered to as well. A local library cannot cater fully to the needs/ wishes of young adults whilst overlooking the needs of their other patrons in the community.I love the Logan Central Library success story, but also believe that young people need to understand how to respect others using the public facility. I don’t know-sometimes I am conflicted by the issue of teenage empowerment and teenage compliance.

      This conflict often occurs after having altercations with my own teenager daughters! Being so much closer to this generation age wise, do you ever feel that teenagers today have a sense of entitlement, and as such this could be a challenge for library practitioners who need to equitable in the services they provide,and that includes an amicable environment, for all within their community?

  • Hi Lisa , great post about a success story . The loudmouth librarian blog sounds fascinating anitra.

    • Thanks Anitra. The Loudmouth Librarian is very inspiring. It seems that libraries in parts of the US are far more progressive in terms of their collaborative projects with youths in their communities than we are here in Queensland.

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