Churches and libraries have a few things in common. Both are traditional institutions serving a local community. Both offer opportunities to deepen knowledge and exercise personal responsibility.
And neither is much frequented by teens.
Part of the problem for libraries, according to veteran librarian Nadine Kramarz, is that “teens are not always treated well at libraries.” (“Taking Teen Services to the Teens,” Public Libraries Online, Nov. 30, 2018). The Young Adult (YA) book section may be small compared to juvenile and adult sections, she says, “and libraries know that it can be difficult to maintain a teen space that is free from adult encroachment, and even harder to keep those noise levels acceptable.”
Churches face similar challenges in trying to create, staff, and maintain truly teen-friendly environments, spaces conducive to the hubbub and activity of young people.
The solution, according to some librarians: go to the teens.
Kramarz asks: “What if we consider meeting the teens at their point of need? What if the library goes to the teens? Go to pizza parlors and hold book clubs that ask hard questions and encourage teens to come up with supported arguments, or get a game night going at the local laundromat.”
Libraries need an updated service model, she says, citing as one approach the concept of “embedded librarianship” endorsed by college faculty librarian and university instructor Meredith Farkas.
In her article, “Get Out of the Library: Embedding librarians in our communities” (American Libraries, May 1, 2018), Farkas says libraries’ “patrons’ habits have changed while many of our service models have stayed the same.”
“Being an embedded librarian means being where your patrons are. Embedding looks different depending on the type of library and the goals of the project, but all embedded librarian projects are focused on being part of the patron’s environment so that they can be available at points of need rather than expecting patrons to come to the library.”
She continues: “Embedded librarianship is about building strong relationships with the communities libraries serve and requires a deep understanding of the needs and habits of our patrons.” She acknowledges this approach “can be labor-intensive, and having librarians leave the building can spread staff even thinner. Many libraries that have done embedded projects have tried small-scale pilots to anticipate the impact on their staffing and patrons. It’s possible that the success of an embedded librarian project will depend on altering existing services or staffing.”
“Being an embedded librarian means being where your patrons are. Embedding looks different depending on the type of library and the goals of the project, but all embedded librarian projects are focused on being part of the patron’s environment so that they can be available at points of need rather than expecting patrons to come to the library.”Meredith Farkas, librarian and instructor
The necessity of dedicated staff involvement is echoed by Jennifer Velasquez, teen services coordinator at San Antonio Public Library and recipient of the New York Times Librarian Award (2005). In a blog posting on the Young Adult Library Services Association webpage (“Plastic sofa-cover flashback: Beware the pristine, useless teen space,” Aug. 7, 2014), she argues that “the most important feature” for any dedicated teen space “is the dedicated staff members present in the space—the professionals uniquely prepared and passionate about serving teens. Even the most humble teen space can function—if there is teen service staff present to foster teen participation, engagement and create a welcoming atmosphere.”
Providing staff members dedicated to working with teens in youth-friendly spaces will challenge churches and libraries alike, especially given that maintaining current services already stretches personnel and strains budgets.
Nonetheless, if the church or parish wants in some way to remain relevant to teens and part of their lives, it will need to find a way to go to them. What might that effort look like? Where in teens’ busy lives might the church become meaningfully involved? What might that involvement look like? What sort of personnel and training will be needed for that involvement to be impactful?
Creativity, innovation, listening ears and open hearts are needed. The alarm is ringing. Time for churches to get up and go to the teens.
Jerry Ruff, Senior Writer and Editor
Saint Mary’s Research