By Melissa Perkins, MLIS, M.Ed.
Teenagers really haven’t changed that much over the decades. No, really! Even in these modern times, they’re still fighting acne, questioning established rules, craving acceptance, seeking entertainment, searching for purpose, and secretly yearning for sound guidance. Regardless of today’s youthful mastery over high-tech toys and tools, adolescents continue to need meaningful, positive relationships and learning experiences.
Over the years, many public organizations, private organizations, and agencies have assisted with the educational and social development of older kids. These groups have created special grants, projects, and organizations to help meet the developing needs of teenagers. So in the realm of young adult development, what role should the library play as a community resource? Is the library a place for teenagers? Is the library cool enough to attract today’s trap music-loving, selfie-snapping, Twitter-following teenager? Well, the answer is a resounding “Yes.”
Libraries still have what it takes to attract and hold the interest of young adults. In fact, this technology explosion we’ve been experiencing has made young people even more reliant on libraries. As the world becomes increasingly driven by data, software applications, and the Internet, those without the means to attain the necessary technology and communication services turn to the library for the resources they need. In underserved communities, where many teenagers are considered “at-risk,” the availability of technology via the library has become crucial.
However, access to computer workstations isn’t the only service that at-risk teenagers find useful and attractive. Many libraries located in underserved regions offer programs aimed at providing local teenagers with fun, positive, and productive activities and projects. The following are just a few examples.
Helping Incarcerated Youth
Many of our at-risk youth are serving time in juvenile detention centers. And although libraries are often heavily involved in prevention and in early intervention programs, the “cradle to prison pipeline” trend continues to exist. Nevertheless, after kids have been placed in the custody of the justice system and the department of corrections, libraries can still play a role in the rehabilitation efforts that help these youngsters find a healthy path in life.
For example, in 2016, the Glen Carbon Centennial Library District in Glen Carbon, Illinois, established a successful Therapy Dogs for At-Risk Youth program for the Madison County Juvenile Detention Center. The library system partnered with the Got Your Six Support Dogs organization to create a program that uses therapy dogs—in conjunction with the library’s Great Stories Club activities—as physical and emotional support for teens at the detention center.
Nurturing Future Leaders
In addition to creating outreach programs for incarcerated teens, libraries support and strengthen relationships with those ambitious youngsters in underserved areas who are developing leadership qualities and skills. For instance, Queens Library in New York has developed the Youth-to-Youth Teen Leadership Council, which combines civic and community service with youth development. The Youth-to-Youth Teen Leadership Council provides 14-to-21-year-olds “positive ways to discover their voice, explore social-cultural differences and create lasting change within their community.”
Providing Digital Learning
The Chicago Public Library has 12 branches that house and operate YOUmedia programs. YOUmedia Chicago is a digital learning space program for teens. The program focuses on teaching digital media and STEM subject content, while making use of Makerspace activities and projects. The kids engage in projects that can involve graphic design, photography, video, music, 2D/3D design, and STEM subject areas. The program provides at-risk youth with the opportunity to acquire new skills using digital technology to enhance their math and science aptitudes. The program also promotes critical thinking skills and creativity.
Teen library programming is a significant component in manifesting a vibrant and effective public library. The following website links list several helpful resources for libraries looking to establish fun, educational activities and programs for the youth of the community:
- JMRL Teen Page: https://www.jmrl.org/pr-teens.htm
- Library Services for Youth in Custody: http://www.youthlibraries.org/what-lsyc
- YouthARTS: http://youtharts.artsusa.org/costs/
- Programming Librarian: http://www.programminglibrarian.org/
Melissa has worked in an assortment of academic, corporate, and public libraries. One of her major passions is sharing the magical world of stories, information, and ideas with the masses. Click here for more.