The Future of the Teen Library

  • The computer lab isn’t getting much usage.  WHY?  Teens have their own laptops and netbooks
    • IDEA:  Use the computers for something that teens don’t have access to
    • Keep the public computing area as it is, yet “convert” a few of your stations to video/audio/image editing stations.
  • Teens are using the library to hang out, socialize, and study.
  • They’re not just doing one thing.  They’re multi-tasking.
  • Simply put, they are using the library as a social place.
    • IDEA: Use this approach to the teen area to craft a laid back approach to the library.  Less of a library, more of a lounge.
    • Allow drinks and food.
    • Do not discourage feet on chairs and tables.
    • Encourage rearrangement of furniture.
    • Teens will self regulate.  Instead of enforcing policy, let them find their ground.
  • Instead of building good book collections, build good COLLECTIONS OF EVERYTHING.
    • IDEA: We will not win over teens with just books.  We will win them over by giving them something they cannot get elsewhere
    • With the internet, information is now free.  People can get research together without the help of a database.  People can watch TV, play games,  and interact with people.  Building collections in the library means reaching out to all formats (see below) and creating collections that represent your community.
  • Teens want more in the collection.  Expand the collection to include non-traditional library materials.
    • IDEA: Obtain more circulating materials for teens to check out.
    • Video Games
    • Board Games
    • Handheld Video Game Systems
    • Tools
    • EReaders
    • Cameras
    • Video Cameras
    • Graphing Calculators
    • Video/Audio/Image Editing software or stations
    • Binoculars
    • Sports equipment
    • Passes to local museums, galleries, etc.
    • People (mentors, teachers, etc)
    • Music, Books, and Art created locally
    • Art supplies

From being in the trenches day in and day out, these are just some observations I’ve made.  In order to survive, we have to change.  What we’re doing right now is not serving our populations as best as we can.  We have to destroy what we’ve built and start from scratch.  It’s time to reinvent the teen public library


  1. These ideas are priceless, especially since many libraries are run by hold-the-line-against-progress types who would never, ever think of these by themselves. My children (almost teens) still love the library for its books, but they would BEG to go there if it had even 10% of the value you describe above. You describe a library stocked with IDEAS, with a variety of delivery systems beyond just traditional books and audio/video materials.

    • We really need to rethinking this thing. The library is a beautiful place and I think really in danger of dying. Books used to make a library…that will not cut it anymore. We have to give the world something it cannot get anywhere else.

      I forgot to add that people are a HUGE part of that, but at the same time, it can’t be people alone. It has to be everything.

      I dream of a library where I can go into a building and do the following:

      1. Talk to some friends. Casual stuff. Community building.

      2. Download some music onto my IPod that will go away in like 2-3 weeks. Just something to enjoy and experience.

      3. Read…well, stuff. Books, newspapers, both in print and streamed to my IPad or laptop.

      4. Check out materials I cannot get anywhere else. I can’t afford lots of video games. I can’t afford Photoshop. Can I borrow it?

      Thank you.

  2. My library checks out the following:
    Video Games
    Board Games
    Handheld Video Game Systems
    Sports equipment
    Passes to local museums, galleries, etc.
    Art supplies
    We also offer bike locks for three hour loans to help with a rash of bike thefts.

    Not all of it circulates, mind you–some of it is for in library use only. But it is a start.

  3. I like a lot of the ideas in this post and will ponder some of those I’m less comfortable with (ie- video games). Even as the daughter of two librarians and someone who has an office in a library part-time, I find myself preferring to spend time at the big box bookstore because of better selection (especially of NF and mags) and the ability to relax with a drink or snack. It seems more pleasant even though I so want to be a person who spends more time in libraries. And I’m a n old gen x-er, not a teen.

    • Why do we not allow food and drink in libraries? I have no clue. It seems like some old outdated rule we’ve just stuck with. One that has to go. People eat and drink…and read at the same time. It’s not rocket science.

      I understand wanting to hang out in the “big box bookstore because of better selection (especially of NF and mags) and the ability to relax with a drink or snack”. It’s what we all want. It is part of our culture. I find myself doing it as well. And I’m working in a library! (personally, I prefer a small local coffeeshop but that’s just me)

      I have this idea about food and drinks in libraries. We check these books out to people for a month or so. They most likely eat and drink and do god knows what else with them at home. Why can’t they do that in the library?

      What is stopping them from checking out the books, taking them home, and just returning them with slices of bologna inside of them?

    • You know, as I wrote this I thought that myself. I’m not experienced in the classroom, but I think a lot of these ideas could work. In fact, I think a whole shift of how we view our establishments and norms in this society is needed!

  4. I have been pushing for an “off-campus teen center” for two years. Our community has a need and the library is struggling at filling it. Great ideas!!
    “If you don’t adapt you will lose relevance”
    ~Jennifer Kushell
       “Millenials in the Library” – College of DuPage Webcast

    • “off-campus teen center” is really a great way to go for the library. It seems like most people focus on the “disconnect” it would cause with the “library proper” but in my eyes what that means is…we’re scared of doing something that radical.

      An off campus teen center would allow teens to be teens, do their thing, and enjoy a safe place full of options. What’s the bad thing about that?

  5. Great post Justin, Glad I had a chance to meet you last week. I look forward to seeing the way you grow teen services in Portland.
    I can really see the need for circulating video games, I used to test titles by renting at a video store but with those stores biting the dust this would be another great way to provide a service that has high demand and a long reach.

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