Bringing Teens on Board – literally!

October 16, 2006 at 10:43 am 3 comments

In 2005 Princeton Public Library expanded the roster of its Board of Trustees by appointing two Teen Liaisons to serve a 2 year term. Although they are not voting members of the board, they attend meetings and are given a voice. Their input is sought and their opinions valued.

I recently spoke with Susan Conlon, our Teen Services Librarian at Princeton Public Library, about the impetus to add Teen Liaisons to the Board of Trustees. As Susan recounts:

We’ve had a very active Teen Advisory Board (TAB) at PPL for about 9 years. When we were still in the construction phase of our new building, I organized several tours of the not-yet-opened library for members of TAB to get a preview of the new building. These tours were just like the ones that were being offered to the trustees, staff and other interested adults.

Alex White was one of the teens on a tour and he became the first of two teens appointed to the board a few years later. Our assistant director at that time was leading the “hard-hat tour” and answering questions from the teens, and I remember it was Alex who asked about who made all of the decisions about building the new library and how to get the money to pay for it. We told him it was the Board of Trustees, and he then asked how someone got to be on it as he was interested.

The connection was definitely made that day between teen’s current participation on the TAB and maybe, one day, their being a representative on the library board of trustees. As it turned out, this initial conversation evolved into why not make a space on the board for teens now. Thanks to Alex’s suggestion ( and his reminders over the next year or so about his interest in serving as a teen representative) and to Leslie’s and the board’s desire to take it forward, we now have two teens (both named Alex!) on the Board of Trustees.

New Orleans ALA 2006 I recently conducted an email interview with Alex White about his experience as Teen Liaison to the board. Both our teen liaisons accompanied the PPL delegation to New Orleans for Leslie’s Inauguration as ALA President where they presented a gift to Leslie on behalf of the board. They helped with the “Libraries Build Communities” volunteer day too — they are the young faces in the front row of the group photo of the PPL staff, friends, and board members who traveled to New Orleans in June and spent a day at the Children’s Resource Center moving books (as evidenced in the other photo, where one Alex is passing books to the other).ALA 2006 in NOLA -- Volunteer Day at the Children's Resource Center

JanieH: Where do you attend school and what grade are you in?

AlexW: I attend Princeton High School and am a senior this year.

JanieH: How long have you been involved at the Princeton Public Library?

AlexW: I have been coming to the library since I moved to Princeton in first grade. I first joined the Teen Advisory Board in fifth grade.

JanieH: What made you decide to accept the position of being Teen Liaison to the Board of Trustees?

AlexW: I accepted the position because I felt that it was a unique opportunity to influence the library and how it is run. I was interested in offering a teen’s perspective on what goes on in the library. Being able to represent the youth age group is important; it gives us a voice in the operation of the library that might not otherwise be heard.

JanieH: What did you hope to accomplish during your term on the Board?

AlexW: I basically hoped that I would be able to ensure that the library continues its success in the teen department, as well as making any suggestions that I or other teens feel could help to make the library even better.

JanieH: What did you learn as a result of this unique experience?

AlexW: This experience showed me how a professional board is run, and gave me the opportunity to see what goes into the operation of a major organization.

JanieH: What is the one thing that surprised you most while attending the meetings of the library board?

AlexW: I was just a little surprised by some of the things the board discussed, which I would not have expected to factor into how the library is operated.

JanieH: What is your most memorable moment from your time as teen liaison?

AlexW: I really enjoyed the New Orleans trip, getting to see the city, and being able to volunteer and be part of a team that accomplished something so significant.

JanieH: Do you think you will continue to serve on other boards or continue with volunteer work? If so, what do you have planned or hope to do?

AlexW: Although I’m not sure where, I do expect that at some point in my future, I will serve on another board. As for volunteer work, I definitely plan to pursue it, but am unsure in what ways.

JanieH: What are your plans for the future?

AlexW: Well, I’m not sure exactly what my plans are, but I definitely plan on going to college, and after that, hopefully getting a job in the sports industry or being a businessman.

JanieH: Who is your favorite author or what is your favorite book?

AlexW: I have many books that I enjoy so it’s difficult to pick a favorite, but for now I would have to say The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

JanieH: Would you share with us a favorite quotation?

AlexW: “The truth was that Jay Gatsby of West Egg, Long Island, sprang from his Platonic conception of himself.” –The Great Gatsby

JanieH:Is there anything else you would like to share about you?

AlexW: I am a huge sports fan and also I hope someday to come back and see the library even better than it currently is.

I would like to thank Alex White for taking the time to answer my questions. Both Alex’s have been terrific assets to the Board and very dedicated to attending meetings and other functions. I am sure they will have much success in all their future endeavours.

The library is currently formalizing the method by which two new teen liaisons will be selected once the Alex’s are finished their term. We have also recently appointed two teen representatives to serve on the Friends Council and be active with our Friends of the Library. Getting teens “on board” makes sense in so many ways and is a great way to train future leaders who will have experience serving on volunteer boards and contributing their time to the community. I hope that other libraries will consider getting their teens “on board” too.

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3 Comments

  • 1. GeekChic  |  October 16, 2006 at 11:39 pm

    Janie, That’s really great that you have teen representatives on your board – and that you have teens that want to be on it! I just have one question… why aren’t they voting members?

  • 2. Janie L. Hermann  |  October 17, 2006 at 3:01 pm

    Good question geekchic! I just spoke with our library director, Leslie Burger, to ensure that I had the correct answer and (as Leslie affirmed to me just minutes ago) we are, in fact, open to letting a teen be a voting member of the board if the opportunity arises.

    At the time when the new positions of teen liasion were created we did not have any vacant seats on the board. Library Boards are governed by N.J.S.A. 40:54-9 and the statutes impose limits on board size — we are at the maximum size. The way around this was to make the teens be non-voting liasions while we did a “pilot” term with our first two appointees.

    The important aspect for us is to have official teens representation at board meetings and for them to communicate with our TAB after each meeting.

    Perhaps the next time I blog about this we will have teens voting on our boards — we are most certainly receptive to the idea should the right circumstances arise.

  • 3. GeekChic  |  October 17, 2006 at 4:09 pm

    Janie, Thanks for answering my question. It’s quite impressive (to me anyway) that you found a way for teens to be involved even with your board at its maximum size. I hope that the teens in your area are still interested if and when a voting seat opens up.


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