How Do Teens Use Public Libraries?

Many young adults spend considerable time hanging out at the library.

Librarians create spaces where students can relax, study, and engage with their peers.

As a former teen librarian, I spent the hours from 3–6 PM trying to entice teens to hang out at the library. Statistics show that kids need after-school support. Librarians seek to engage with and support teens by providing safe and welcoming spaces. The pandemic has affected how teens engage with the library. Librarians on the front lines report on how teens use libraries and how they have changed due to the pandemic.

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What Do Teens Do At the Library?

Many young adults spend considerable time hanging out at the library. In most public libraries, you will see teens gathered doing the following:

  • Relaxing. After a taxing day at school, many teens come to hang out and talk with friends or play board and video games.
  • Studying. Many projects require research to complete, making the library a necessity. Other times they need a quiet place to focus and get work done.
  • Accessing. Teens take advantage of the free computers available to play games, watch videos, and do research for homework. They also use the library’s free WiFi to access the internet on their devices.
  • Engaging. Most libraries have various activities, from crafts to Minecraft, college prep to introductions to credit cards, and other types of financial education. Teen library events include events, contests, games, and much more.
  • Volunteering. Teen volunteers assist with younger children, community programs, or clerical tasks.
  • Advising. Groups such as teen advisory boards help plan and implement teen programs with library personnel and serve in an advisory capacity. 
  • Eating. Teen librarians have an old saying: if you feed them, they will come. Innovative librarians are not above tempting teens to come in by offering treats at teen programs. Libraries also connect with food banks to provide meals and combat food insecurity.
  • Reading. Yes, teens use the library the traditional way too. 

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Post Pandemic Challenges 

Like everyone else, teens are figuring out how to re-engage with the world during this difficult time. The ability to attend school in person remains a fragile experience. Many people, including teens, have not returned to their regular routines. Teen librarians agree that most teens still come in and do all the above activities. 

Like many other institutions during the pandemic, libraries pivoted their programming online. Many libraries have continued to do this. A librarian in Los Angeles said that they were closed for a year. The city still has a mask mandate, so many young people have not gotten the word that they are open. Hence, many of their programs remain online, including a popular one for teens called “Tea Time.” A freeform time for teens to talk and, as the saying goes, spill the tea. Librarians in Colorado report that many public places no longer require masks. One says that one of their most popular programs is a virtual Dungeons & Dragons game they began during the lockdown. 

New Trends 

Teens and libraries successfully pivoted to virtual programming during the pandemic, but shifting back may be a slow process. Librarians have reported that it is harder to predict turnout for in-person events. Still, hopefully, this is a minor challenge due to a lack of communication and is not indicative of a more significant problem.

The fallout from the pandemic will take years, maybe even decades, to get a handle on. In the short term, though, teens have gotten out of the habit of using their public libraries. The challenge of luring them back will require time and more pivoting. Fortunately, librarians who work with teens are determined to remind them of all the value they can find, for free, at their local libraries.