2.1 How Partners Can Help Teen Services Librarians

“We believe that being the best we can at what we do means not trying to be all things to all people by not trying to do it alone.”

— Ali Turner 1

There are many ways that community partnerships can benefit libraries

For instance, partners can…

expose teens to new careers, opportunities, and interests
bring new audiences to the library
bring the library to new audiences
provide a fuller perspective on the community
provide material support

Let’s look at each of these opportunities in more depth.

Partners can expose teens to new careers, opportunities, and interests

One of the most powerful ways partners can help libraries is by letting teens experience a diverse range of careers, opportunities, and interests. A professional can share expertise and real-world insight beyond what even the most accomplished teen services librarian can provide. Partners can mentor youth or library staff, and can be resources for programming.

Providence Public Library & Rhode Island School of Design

For a program about 1920’s fashion, Providence Public Library partnered with the Rhode Island School of Design, a prestigious institution located only a few blocks away. An instructor from the school’s Young Artist program provided teens with expert instruction, advice, and feedback while the teens created their own designs for 20s-inspired dresses. Connecting with a professional designer gave teens an experience that would not have been possible with the library’s resources alone.

Partners can bring new audiences to the library

Partners who have already built a youth community can introduce them to the library and its resources. Organizations with established audiences might include: scouts or 4-H clubs, YMCA/YWCA, schools, school clubs (e.g. the robotics club or Lego Mindstorm club), other youth-serving organizations, and city facilities like rec centers.

Bringing New Audiences to the Library

Partnerships can be a way to introduce new youth to the library when your partner brings their existing audiences to you.

  • A suburban library in the midwest held STEAM programming for the local Boy Scout troop, bringing all the scouts in the library, along with some parents and siblings.
  • Another library’s partnership with a high school e-sports club often brought new teens into the library.
  • Many libraries partner with Parks and Recreation departments — sometimes even sharing facilities — to bring in the Parks and Rec visitors to the library.

Partners can bring the library to new audiences

Youth services librarians need to get out of the library building and go to teens “where they are, rather than waiting for teens to to find a way to get to the physical library space.”2 Partners might have spaces that youth are already using where you can bring programs. Look back at the list in the previous section—these same organizations might have spaces where you can take your programming.

Charlotte Mecklenburg Library and the Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office

The Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office had operated a successful library system in the two county jails for years, but administrators saw a need to increase programming for youthful offenders. The jail did not have the staff capacity to handle more specialized programming, so the jail library's director—a former public librarian—reached out to the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. Administrators at the public library immediately saw the benefits of such a partnership to the jail (better programming for their youth), the library (the ability to reach an audience that was unable to visit the library), and the community (youth would be better prepared for life after release).

Library staff were able to use existing youth programming modified slightly for the youth at the jail. For instance, they offered single-session versions of some classes, for youth who were about to be released, and they made connections to other youth programs that were available at the jail. The most needed programming involved technology literacy, which library staff combined with creativity and social skills to create impactful programs—for example, they incorporated book reports into a podcasting class, and encouraged computer literacy and peer interactions through gaming tournaments. The items the youth created served as evidence of the program's impact.

For more information, see High Impact Partnership: Serving Youth Offenders by Angela Craig, in Young Adult Library Services, 2010(Fall), 20-22.

Partners can provide a fuller perspective on the community

Even if library staff do a thorough job of getting to know the teens that come into the library, understanding the teens who don’t come into the library is a different story. Partners who work with different segments of the youth population can fill the library in on what they’re missing.

Denver Public Library's Community Mapping Project

In 2013, Denver Public Library launched a year-long project to improve their teen services with the help of a community asset mapping project. They identified many teen-related organizations in Denver and interviewed 40 of them, asking them about their work, the teens they serve, potential partnerships with the library, and any gaps they saw in services for teens in the community. They also interviewed library staff and held focus groups with teens.

The interviews with the other youth-serving organizations revealed not just information about the organizations’ services, but also information about key issues facing Denver teens. The resulting report and its recommendations served as a guide as the library began forming partnerships and developing new programs for teens.

“Working with other community partners who know what’s going on in the big picture can help actually bring in more teens to make it more global in terms of that community.

— Learning Consultant at an urban western library

Partners can provide material support

Simply donating money or materials in return for a public “thank you” from the library is an easy entry point to partnership for many organizations, particularly local businesses.

Partnering With Local Businesses

Simple partnerships can lead to more extensive collaborations as the relationship develops. In a midwestern town surrounded by rural farmland, one librarian developed a great relationship with a local game store. The owner donated merchandise to be used as trivia prizes and themed snacks for movie nights (“For our Naruto movie, everybody went home with either wasabi candy or ginger candy.”) He shared his expertise by running video game tournaments at the library and judging a game-making contest. In return, the store earned exposure and goodwill with the teens, and the library bought gift cards from the store as additional prizes.

1: Bring Your Dreams to the Library, by Ali Turner. Young Adult Library Services, 2013.

2: The Future of Library Services For and With Teens: A Call to Action, p16. By Linda W. Braun, Maureen L. Hartman, Sandra Hughes-Hassell, Kafi Kumasi, and Beth Yoke. YALSA, 2014.