Tag Archives: Teens and the third place

Teenage Men and Library Programming – Create the Third Place

First, I apologize for the long hiatus from this blog, however, during that time, I earned my MLIS from UW Milwaukee, so it was worth the wait!

Second.  Take the teenage male. No seriously, take him.  Boys becoming men emit disturbing odors (there are no longer showers after gym class – my son used Axe like water!), their voices are squeaky, arms and legs gangly, feet are humungous they are unsure, and sometimes shy.

Mostly reading isn’t cool.  Mostly they don’t even think they read.

But they do.

GENERALLY SPEAKING we, as librarians try to target this group for programming, or we look at them as Margaret Edwards’ book title:  The Fair Garden and the Swarm of Beasts.”  The boys are, of course, the Beasts.  Rest assured, they will “swarm your fair garden,” and they are of course, still developing as human beings.  But more on this later.

Why do we aim programs at these young men?  Look at children’s/YA literature.

In the early years, we see a lot of “boy books:”  Captain Underpants, Geronimo Stilton, Encylopedia Brown, The Hardy Boys, Tom Swift, Hatchet,etc.

A little older (pre-tweens/tweens):  Artemis Fowl, Harry Potter, The Ranger’s Apprentice, Erec Rex, 101 Cupboards, The Graveyard Book, etc.

Now we hit the teen years.  WTH?  Twilight, Clique, Gossip Girls –  wait a minute, where are the young man books?  Oh, sure, there is Maximum Override,  books by John Green, Anthony Horowitz, and Sherman Alexie – but overwhelmingly, the teen books are aimed at teenage women, not men.

So we find the teenage men at, you guessed it (good for you) Manga and Graphic Novels.  There is nothing wrong with this, in fact, I myself was a comic book reader – voracious even, it’s how I first read The Red Badge of Courage, Moby Dick and other Classics Illustrated.

Reading is reading.

We do want them to read more, though.  So we program to bring them in.  We, as Youth Services Librarians are excited when we get these young men to come to Gaming Night, ecstatic when they join the TAB, and just plain freaked out with joy if they speak to us with more than a grunt and say “that was a great book, do you know any others?”  (actually, just the words (?) ” ‘s allright” give me a chill!

A simple nod from a teenage man, acknowledging your very existence as a librarian who “isn’t too lame,”  well, that is better than fifteen cards from toddlers who give you something they made after storytime!

SO… with all of this non-commital love waiting for you, how do you get them in?


The third place is a place of refuge, a place of safe haven, and a place where you can meet friends and people know you – you can even (gasp!) talk to humans face-to-face, rather than texting.  Ok, sometimes.

The third place is a concept created years ago by Ray Oldenburg in his book The Great Good Place (1989, 1991).  Oldenburg saw then (when Netscape was a viable browser!), that human beings needed a place that wasn’t home or work – a third place he called the Great Good Place.  It was a place of community, where you would see people you knew, it could be a coffee shop (it is a founding idea of Starbucks), a bar or a library.

Oldenburg recognized that we are losing our sense of community and connections with other people. We are losing the human touch.  In only 100 years we have gone from predominantly (in the country)horse-drawn vehicles to cars, from biplanes to outer space, from adding machines to computers.

The third place is the way to help re-establish the human connection.  There are 40 Developmental Assets for youth.  Many involve becoming involved and offering them a safe place, a place with adults they can trust.  I could go into homeless teen numbers, but it’s a dark, slippery slope.

Teens need us.  They need us to provide a place where they can come for safety, for relaxation. for fun, and sometimes for protection.

Michelle Gorman gave a seminar called “Not Your Mama’s Library.”  Michelle is about 5’2″ – maybe.  One of the things she trains her YA staff to do is to be welcoming.  I have seen librarians cringe when a school lets out and the kids come into the library.  Security rushes to watch them, librarians give them “the eye” and their fingers go their lips to shush the kids before anything has even happened!

BE WELCOMING!  Greet the kids, say hi, smile, invite them in, show them new books, ask if they need help – give them attention! Follow these steps:

GREET them.  SINCERELY, they are your reason for being a YA librarian.

CONNECT with them.  Learn something about them: their hair, shoes, book they read, jewlery, anything to break the ice and to learn something about them.  It puts them at ease and you learn something about each other.

DISCOVER what they are in for.  Reference help? Internet access? A quiet place to read.  Conduct the reference interview – if they are looking for reader’s advisory help, homework help, find out their needs.  If they don’t want help – let them chill out.  Be discreet and establish a librarian/patron sacred relationship when dealing with sensitive materials.

RESPOND.  Fill their needs.  Recommend a book. Refer them to reference.  Show them that their are actual sources at the bottom of Wikipedia!

THANK them for coming in and invite them back!


Did you know the human brain is not fully formed until our mid 20’s?  This why kid’s sometimes short circuit and even they don’t know why.

Teens are still growing into their bodies – and their minds!  They often short circuit and get angry, or confused.  Often they can’t handle it – without knowing why.

Tiny little Michelle understands this.  When she has a teen that is acting up – she first separates him from the group  – in cowboy terms “cuts him from the herd.”  Now, because she has welcomed them in, and they know who she is, and she knows who they are – the bravado dies down quickly when there is no audience.  Michelle explains the rules and asks for help – giving the teen ownership of the situation – yet controlling it.

I have always been taught to approach angry or upset people with palms open, arms down and facing the person, and to talk with a soothing voice.   Your hands obviously have no weapons or are not clenched for a fight, you are relaxed.

Find out what the problem is.  Re-state it back to the patron, offer a solution.

Next TIme – Establishing your Third Place Web Presence