TALK TO THEM.
It’s not a hard concept. You don’t even need to do this in any kind of “proper” setting – just walk up to the teen you always see taking out stacks of manga & find out what’s new that they wish we stocked. I can guarantee you he’ll give you a long list of stuff, both old & new.
Show them a picture of the Hunger Games cast & see what they think.
Ask the kids always glued to the Wii if there’s something new they’d like to try.
Ask the teens sitting in your teen area, wherever that might be, what books they enjoy. You might be surprised at their answers – Hunger Games isn’t all that popular where I am, but the Fallen, Hush Hush, & Mortal Instruments series are never on the shelves.
Find out how many of them have Kindles or Nooks or iPads, & if they actually want eBooks. Maybe that’s a budget you don’t need!
Ask the kids wearing the One Piece & Naruto shirts what other anime they’d like to watch. Maybe they know something you don’t!
Ask the teens on the computer what they do online. My teens had never even heard of Second Life when it was so popular on ALA a few years ago, & they’ve moved on from Runescape to a game called Vindictus. Some of them love Angry Birds while others are loyal to Facebook Scrabble or Plants vs Zombies. A bunch of them are on a new-ish social network called Plurk, which I’ve never heard of from anywhere else. Some of them are moving on to Twitter, but most are on all three. They all love Tumblr & some still use LiveJournal for pictures & fanfic.
After visiting Hot Topic (which ought to be a regular stop for you, no matter how awkward you might feel going inside), ask them about anything you don’t know or recognize. Fair warning: if it’s in Hot Topic, it might be heading towards old news, but it’s still something you should know about.
Some of this information I glean from our teen advisory board meetings, but honestly, a lot of things, especially all the new stuff, I get just from walking up to them & asking, hey, what’s your opinion on a bookcart drill team? (They all unanimously thought it was as lame as I did.) When I see a teen reading or carrying a stack of books anywhere in the library, I walk up to them & tell them (if I don’t know them) that hey, I’m the nosy teen librarian & I want to know what you’re reading.
I constantly see, across the listservs & workshops, people asking what’s popular, what’s new, begging for updates. Honestly, the only way to know what’s what where you are is to talk to them. The teens here are different from the teens there! Anime might not even be all that popular at your library – or maybe they don’t come to your gaming programs because they all have the systems at home. I’m lucky, now, that my desk is in the teen space so I can just ask any question to any of them whenever I want, but prior to that, I used any time I had off the reference desk to be in the teen space when teens were there. I know teens can be scary & annoying & smelly, but the only way to know if their needs are being served is to ask. Ask them as they check out books what they thought of the first in the series. Talk to them when they venture to the scary ref desk to put a hold on something if they know about the upcoming program, & what they’d like to see in the future. Have a conversation while you weed if that old project is still being done – maybe there’s a whole shelf of books you don’t need anymore! Pay attention while you shelve which books are going out – & coming back looking like they’ve been read a lot. Ask the teens around if they’ve read what you’re shelving & if it was any good. Talk to them, all of them, any time you’re around them.
I promise, you won’t regret it.
[update 10/2020] If you need more evidence that talking to your teens and community about what they need or want, check out this amazing webinar, Go Out & Play. The webinar is focused on the community as a whole, but if you take the principles of talking to your community and focus it on teens, I promise you, you won’t regret it.
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