I had the privilege of attending the GPLS Teen Conference 2008 at Macon State College on Friday, December 5.  Keynote speaker Michele Gorman gave a rousing keynote speech entitled, “”This Ain’t Your Mama’s Library! Creating a New Generation of Library Services for a New Generation of Library Users”.  You can read my notes I took during the presentation via Cover It Live on my wiki page, but I’d like to share some key ideas that I got out of Gorman’s speech that you may find helpful.  Whether you work with teen patrons or younger students, you may find some of Gorman’s insights helpful.

  • Think like your patrons:  In this case, my patrons (as well as Gorman’s) are teenagers.   Gorman says that “thinking like a teenager” is a daily investment in time, but we need to take time to think like our patrons and try to envision our library from that perspective.For example, adolescence is a beehive of information seeking behavior—teens are trying to learn about themselves, the people around them, and the world around them. How can we tap into this information seeking behavior?   As librarians, we can provide them guidance and the resources to do so.  Gorman stated that teens, “…need opportunities to explore the world. Not the “Safe, Library Sanctioned World”—the WORLD.”  How can we do this?  Provide programs, books, and online resources that address real world issues and informational needs of teens to help your patrons sort out who they are and the person they want to be. Provide opportunities for positive social interaction and for your patrons to grow such as book clubs, cultural awareness programs, seminars on abuse, or college/career days.   Teens are becoming themselves as grownups—this is a big information gathering age.  As librarians, we can give our students opportunities to experience the world in an age appropriate way and teach them how to access quality information to answer the questions they have.
  • Know the developmental characteristics of your patrons:  While you may have had Educational Psychology in your undergraduate or graduate studies, we as librarians should keep up with the latest research and news as our understandings of how humans develop, learn, and grow are constantly evolving.  One resource Gorman shared is a treasure trove of “What Kids Need” at different developmental milestones in their lives: .  By having a better understanding of the developmental attributes of the age group of your patrons, you can more effectively plan instruction and learning/leisure activities for your students.  Knowing the latest research in brain research is especially important for understanding the cognitive and social behavior  for those of us who work with teen patrons.
  • Relationships are at the heart of effective library programs and librarianship: Yes, statistics and evidence based practice do matter in this age of accountability, but in spite of the emphasis on numbers and performance standards, much of what we do as librarians can’t be measured quantitatively.   Gorman reminds us that although the movement is for libraries to stress stats/numbers/test scores/standards correlation, we should not forget we impact teens in other meaningful and profound ways; documenting this kind of impact is paramount.

    One strategy Gorman employs to provide qualitative evidence of the impact her teen programs have at her public library is to have all staff members keep an “anecdotal file.”  This file is just a collection of statements or comments patrons may make that reflect the importance of the library in their lives.  For example, one student shared he had to take three buses to attend a special teen event at Gorman’s library.  Given that he could have been anywhere else or spent his bus fare on other things, this teenager who was from an impoverished background clearly made it a point to come to the library.  I plan to start incorporating anecdotal evidence into my library’s monthly reports come January 2009!  I am also going to tap more into the power of our library blog and our PollDaddy polls to collect both quantitative and qualitative evidence for each monthly library report.

While these ideas sound simple, they are truths we often forget in the hustle and bustle of daily library life.  If you ever get the opportunity to hear Michele Gorman in person, I highly recommend you do so as she is an engaging and dynamic librarian whose passion for her work is inspiring!

Buffy Hamilton, Media Specialist
Creekview High School