Review: Real-World Teen Services Librarianship with Jennifer Velasquez

Allison Randall Gatt is in her sixth and final year at the San José State University iSchool, studying to be a youth services librarian. When not taking classes, writing for the SJSU iStudent Blog or being editor of the school’s ALASC newsletter (as if there’s any time left over) she enjoys reading by herself and reading picturebooks and practicing early literacy skills with her preschool-age guinea pigs, er, children. She resides in obscure corner of Sonoma County in Northern California, surrounded by lots of vineyards and livestock.

Jennifer Velásquez knows teen services.

She has been a teen services librarian for 20 years and an instructor at the San Jose State University School of Information for the last ten. At the SJSU iSchool, she teaches a course on young adult services and programming, but she couldn’t find a good textbook to give her graduate students a broad, real-world view of the profession—so she wrote one. The title, Real-World Teen Services, is not just catchy, it’s real—real experiences, real issues, real research and real challenges. Not only will her new book help set new LIS graduates in the right direction to be awesome teen services librarians, Velásquez hopes, but it’s a great update for those librarians who are already working with teens.

There will be no mention of the latest paranormal craze in YA literature in either Velásquez’s book or her SJSU iSchool courses. “We discuss the user and the constituency—not books,” she says. “The class is about human interaction and the knowledge librarians bring to our community. How are we, as librarians, connectors—to books, to the community and to aspects of themselves?” Velásquez makes sure to balance the abstract and academic with a heavy dose of reality. Too often, Velásquez felt that recent LIS graduates knew a great deal about YA books and YA authors but were not equipped to negotiate issues of teen library spaces, interactions between teens and adults, and how teen services fit in with the rest of the library’s programs and resources.

The role of the teen-services librarian and the teens

Typically, children’s librarians serve children and perform storytime presentations, and adult services librarians field reference questions and locate books for adults. But what exactly does a teen services librarian do? Sometimes this can be unclear to library staff, the community and even the teens themselves because of the newness of teen services. Velásquez stresses the importance of advocacy and clear communication. If you’re the first ever teen librarian at your branch, be sure to communicate to the manager how teen services really differs from children’s services. “Find reference and research to make your point and build your case; this isn’t all about what adults think is best for teens,” says Velásquez. “It shouldn’t have to be justified by someone else’s standards.” Teens need to see the library as their own space and own their library experience.

Of course the public library has always been cool, but it’s getting even cooler. When teens plan their own programs and are left to their own devices, it’s more successful, according to Velásquez. Teen services are unique this way—other library users typically don’t plan their own programs. The teens are responsible for planning the program and its agenda and then implementing their ideas. The job of the teen services librarian is to facilitate those ideas. When teens have ownership of their programs, they are successful because they are planned by and for teens. And they invite their friends.

Success in teen services doesn’t happen right away, or by chance. Velásquez stresses the importance of community outreach as part of the job description. “It’s like a business model,” she says. “As a teen services librarian, you have to find your potential market.” That means becoming familiar with the local high schools, their student leaders, and the teachers and staff. It means connecting with local special interest clubs and sports teams. It means really being in the community. It also means helping the general community understand the importance and opportunity of library teen services.

As a teen services librarian, sometimes it means helping your own branch manager and staff understand the unique programming needs of teens. “We need to be able to articulate the ‘library-ness’ of what is going on in teen programming,” says Velásquez, so “that the decision-makers can see the rationale behind the choices of the teen librarian.” Like teen gaming nights at the library, for instance. This can be a tough sell for some traditionalists, so it takes a wise and articulate teen librarian to advocate for programming that genuinely fits the needs of the people they represent.

Trust in your teens

Working as a teen services librarian means believing that teens are human beings, and intelligent and creative ones at that. “ This isn’t about you or your interests. Trust that they’ll come up with something good,” says Velásquez. Trust that your passion for teen services will help facilitate that goodness and creativity, and you’re well on your way to building a program that will help teens thrive and grow in their library community.

You can follow Jennifer Velásquez on Twitter at @jenVLSQZ.

Real-World Teen Services is available through the ALA store.

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