Instructor Jennifer Velasquez Transforms Teen Services

Community Profile

Jennifer Velasquez, San José State University School of Information Lecturer and Coordinator of Teen Services for the San Antonio Public Library, has a straightforward approach to providing youth services: focus on the teens, not the titles.

In many MLIS programs, students read from a core list of Young Adult fiction titles, “implying that they are now prepared to serve the most economically, ethnically, and socially diverse generation of teens in history,” said Velasquez, who teaches INFO 261 Programming and Services for Young Adults. “It is not enough to know the books – you have to know the user.”

That principle guided Velasquez in her transformation of the San Antonio library’s teen services. The library system in the nation’s seventh largest city didn’t have any consistent teen programming, budget, or even dedicated spaces at any of the system’s 26 branches when Velasquez started her job as Teen Service Coordinator in 2000.

Velasquez sought to change that, although without the benefit of a budget or increased staffing. She implemented a “deliberate, calculated shift in service culture” to create a teen decision-making environment where teenagers take ownership of spaces, services, and programming. As part of that transformation, San Antonio now has a system-wide network of “teen liaisons,” who are library staff members at all levels of the organization who act as designated teen programming facilitators and advocates for teens at each of the library’s 26 locations.

The approach has worked well. Circulation of teen materials rose 250% between 2003 and 2009, and attendance at teen library programs increased by more than 150% between 2005 and 2009. Teen spaces are now an essential part of the branch building program whenever new facilities are constructed. Two new library facilities with dedicated teen spaces are scheduled for completion in 2011 and 2012, and plans are in the works for a new Teen Department at the Central Library.

Velasquez decided to become a librarian while pursuing an entirely different career – she was working toward her master’s degree in art history from Penn State. To help earn money, she took a job in the art history department’s Slide & Photographic Library and was soon “bitten by the library bug.”

She left Penn State to pursue her MLS at Rutgers, and originally intended to work in a museum setting. But she graduated in the midst of a tough economy and ended up taking the first job she could land – as a Children’s Librarian.

“Had I ever conducted a story time? Nope,” Velasquez said. “But I had a good, solid practical education and a great boss who taught me and let me be me. I found my strength and interest was in serving teens in a public library setting.”

When San Antonio opened its central library in 1995, she joined the staff as the sole teen librarian and has spent the past 15 years expanding teen services within the library system.

“I appreciate the opportunity I have as an educator in our school’s MLIS program, allowing me to bring my real world experience to the classroom,” she said. “My goal is to prepare students to take on the realities of advocacy and service to teens. One of the most rewarding things that has happened to me was hearing from a recent student, who told me she had just taken a job as a Teen Services Librarian. To me, that is priceless.”