Teens just might be the most demanding patrons a librarian may encounter during there day to day activities on a reference desk. Ranking slightly higher than the little old ladies who are in book discussion clubs that have decided on the latest James Patterson novel is the title of choice this month. Of course, the hold list for the title is a mile long. Satisfying this patron is no mean feat. Come to think of it, serving teens really isn't that difficult and it can be rewarding. Very rewarding.
When planning programs, selecting books or developing services to teens there are certain golden rules to remember. These rules can go a long way in maintaining a vibrant and engaging teen department at any library, big or small. First and foremost, remember teens are at a time in their life where t hey are testing boundaries and still figuring out where or how they "fit" in their world. They want to be accepted, and invited to groups because that is where they feel most comfortable. In groups, they will "hunt" for the right place to hang out. The library can offer that place if they have a space that teens can call their own. Remember, if there are obvious obstacles that discourage teens meeting together, or programs that seem structured like school, the teens response will likely be that the librarian is ignoring them just like every other "adult" institution. This is definitely not the message any library wants to send out, to any patron of any age.
Secondly, teens can be demanding in wanting quick and easy results. This is true when it comes to completing homework assignments or locating the right book, music or movie that is purely for enjoyment Librarians often make the mistake of assuming that when teens "surf" the internet they are not necessarily looking for credible information. Teens often make the mistake of thinking that finding the right information is easy because EVERYONE knows how to use the Internet. Here's how to bring these two false assumption together to make a perfect match between librarians providing a service and teens receiving help from a helpful adult. Librarians can invite the teens to work on the reference search together. By asking direct questions, allowing teens time to articulate what they really need, and demonstrating that you are working as a team to solve their problems. In essence the librarian is letting the teen patron know that their question is worthy of attention.
Lastly, never ever shut a teen down. There have been too many horror stories of librarians who admonishes a teen patron for wasting their time and to come back when they have a real question. In all honesty, teens are not looking for trouble or to pull pranks. If they are bored, and every adult can tell the glaring signs of "Bored Syndrome", find a way to connect with them quickly and in a fashion that invites them to keep coming to the library. For example, if a teen just wants to chat because they are waiting for friends to show up or for a ride home, let them know that you would love to chat with them but can not do so at this time. Take the opportunity to share with them a website that has games, or trivia that might help pass the time. Better yet, ask what genre they like to read. If a new book has arrived at the library that fits their taste, ask them to look it over. They may end up checking it out. (If they do, let them know you're interested in their opinion of the book. Teens love that)
Pleasing teens really isn't difficult when it comes to providing library service. It may take time and patience to gain trust of the teens, but it in the long run it will reap benefits for the library. Remember they are our future lawmakers, taxpayers and parents who will one day be a library advocate if their experiences in the library were positive. On a more personal note, a teen librarian's job may not be glamorous or be paid like Donald Trump (or Donald Duck for that matter) it is one of the most rewarding occupations in the library world.