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The Library is more essential than ever for teens who had their academic and social progress interrupted by the pandemic. Teen librarians strategically provide support and services to help these teens build connections and skills to become our community’s leaders.


Here come the community leaders of the future

by Terri Carroll, Director of Communications

Today’s youth have gone through a lot during the past two years. But that’s not stopping them! They are ready to shape their world, and the Library is here to help.

Academic success and the Library go hand-in-hand. For generations, students have relied on the Library for help with classroom reading assignments, research projects, and technology tools. The proliferation of digital resources has made the Library even more necessary for students.

“Sometimes people think that with all the information available with a Google search that students don’t need the Library as much,” Nancy Eames, youth services coordinator, said. “In reality, students often don’t yet have the skills to sort through search results to determine what information is accurate and relevant. Fortunately, today’s students are savvy enough to know that not all information is created equal, and they are confident enough to ask for help.”

Librarians show students how to move beyond Google with dozens of free resources such as:

  • Science Reference Center: Full-text science content and experiments
  • Access World News: News content from all 50 states and 5,900 international news sources
  • Transparent Languages: Support for more than 100 languages
  • Explora Secondary Schools: Trustworthy research materials for class projects and homework

 Students also have access to which provides free online tutoring in all subjects from noon to midnight, 7 days a week.

Additionally, provides writing support in live sessions or through a drop-off paper review as well as practice quizzes; preparation for ACT, SAT, and AP tests; and a skills center resource library.

The Library supports students with access to technology and broadband connectivity. Every location has computer labs that are available during all open hours with both drop-in and by-appointment help. In 2021, Wireless Access Points were installed at all locations to strengthen WiFi access and to provide coverage past the buildings into the parking lots and grounds. The Library also has more than 1,000 WiFi hot spots that students’ families can check out for free.

The Library’s academic and technology focus is even more urgent in the face of school instruction disruptions during the pandemic. Estimates of learning loss range from two months to a full semester, with the most vulnerable learners at the highest risk. This adds urgency to the Library’s efforts.

​In addition to schooling loss, we are learning how the pandemic harmed teens in other ways. In a survey conducted by The New York Times, 94% of responding students reported increased signs of anxiety and depression, 88% reported observing increased difficulties with emotional self-regulation, and 73% reported they had greater difficulties in solving conflicts with friends.

The good news is that one of the most effective ways to heal trauma is through human connection and trusting relationships – making the Library crucial for supporting our community’s students and future leaders.

“Our teens experienced seismic shifts at school, in their families, and in their social circles, during a period of their lives already known for being stressful all on its own,” Joyce Souva, a Teen Services librarian, said. “We are making sure teens know we are here for them by expanding popular programs, building new opportunities, and focusing on their well-being, success, and resiliency.”

“At the heart of everything that we do for teens is building connections,” Eames said. “Research shows that young people need someone who is not their parent or teacher to have a positive relationship with, whether it’s a coach, a Sunday school teacher, or in our case, a librarian. We want to build connections between teens and other teens, and between teens and the community.”

Teens can participate in programs ranging from poetry, hip hop, aromatherapy dough making, gaming, short film screenings, themed escape rooms, open mic nights, chess, and more. A new Youth Ambassadors Program acts as an advisory board, providing input on the Library’s programming for teens and positioning teens to be leaders in the community.

Another leadership opportunity is VolunTEENS. This initiative allows teens to help emerging readers practice reading, register people for Summer Read, and assist Library staff with engaging activities for younger students. In summer 2022, all the spots for VolunTEENS filled within days and more than 200 teens brought their creativity, compassion, and hard work to make summer special for younger visitors.

Monique Harris is a newly minted Youth Ambassador for the Library. She has loved making friends through Library programs after experiencing social bonds that cracked under the stress of school activities going virtual or not happening at all.

“What I get out of the Library is finding good books, and meeting really cool librarians who help me discover them,” said Monique. “Every time I come here I always learn something new. They tell me about things that are coming up that I might never know about, or share their experiences, which helps me figure stuff out. I get connections and wisdom.”

For Laney Edwards, it is similarly a space to expand her social skills after so much isolation. Initially it was a place to pick up and drop off books, and perhaps occasionally do some homework. Later, she was able to make meaningful connections at the Library.

“The pandemic had a big impact on my life,” Laney said. “I ended up moving schools when it started, which made everything more difficult. When school reopened it felt like I was all alone. Eventually I went to the Library every day after school. I was timid and couldn’t hold a long conversation with people I didn’t know, but to my surprise staff talked to me first and it was really easy to open up to them.”

This intentional interaction is central to teen librarianship. “We’ve done a lot of focused professional development with our teen staff, to help them keep an eye out for that kid who maybe is looking for connection but is too shy or scared to ask,” Eames said. “They look out for possible conversational openings and try to find ways to make it a welcoming space for every young person who’s here.”

Of course, books are a key driver of these conversations and connections – Toledo’s teens are readers! While you will see teens checking out stacks of books each day, they also download books and audiobooks from the Library’s Libby and hoopla apps where they can choose from almost 1 million titles.

A big driver of teen reading enthusiasm is BookTok, a subset of the wildly popular TikTok social media platform. BookTok is filled with teens who share recommendations and videos of themselves talking about the books they love, accompanied by dramatic music, sometimes weeping or screaming or otherwise overcome by emotion.

“Instead of traditional book reviews, readers talk honestly about their emotional connection to the book,” Souva said. “To have reading so central within the social media where teens spend their time has absolutely driven a surge in teen reading and materials circulation in recent months.”

Eames is heartened by all this positive activity in the teen sphere. “Our teens are embracing all the Library has to offer. I can’t wait to see how their ideas, energy, and passion shape our community in the future.”