Teen Programming: Basic Steps for the Overwhelmed

If you are new to young adult services getting started can be daunting. The first step is mental. You must have a clear, professional, and personal understanding of why you are developing a teen program.

Professionally; pleasure reading and library use decline during the teen years. Traditionally we have reclaimed these lost patrons when they have children of their own but the changing face of the information, education, and entertainment world may change this. Young adult programs are needed to help teens think of libraries as relevant to their lives, so that we don’t lose them as patrons in the first place.

Personally; your feeling may be different than mine, but I feel that teenagers are one of the most poorly treated segments of the population. They are frequently viewed with distrust and distaste and are welcomed few places. At a stage of life when they are trying to develop a sense of who they are and what their place is our society responds by making them feel like outcasts. Libraries have the potential to counteract this message. We can provide a welcoming environment where young people can explore their values and sense of self through books and other media. A young adult program is a way to let them know we are there for them.

The next step is to get to know the patrons you have and to let them get to know you. The teens that use the library are your window to the rest of their community but getting them to open up can be a challenge. It helps tremendously if you open up and let your own interests and personality show, particularly if some of your interests may give you common ground with some teens. I read science fiction, fantasy, and graphic novels. I watch anime. I am interested in underground music and style. I express all of these interests as much as professionalism reasonably allows.

As you are getting to know your young patrons you should also work to understand the environment they are part of. Where are the schools? What are the schools like? What extra-curricular activities do they offer? Where do teens hang out? Where are the malls? The coffee houses? Are there underage night clubs? How many? How far away are they? How do teens find out about local events of interest? The answers to these questions can let you know what you are competing with for young people’s time and interest, which you might be able to partner with, and how you might be able to promote your program.

Next you need to assess your resources. What funds are available? Do you have a meeting room or other space that you can use? Is it sound proof? Do you have a video projector and or sound system? Do you have Wii system? What are your agency’s Internet use policies? Can you create a blog or myspace for promotion and feedback? How much time do you have in relation to your other duties?

Bearing in mind the interests and needs of your teen community, and the resources available, create as many varied programs as possible. Teenagers are complex and diverse. It is impossible to fully anticipate their responses to the activities you present. Try crafts, book clubs, speakers and performers, video game contests, role-playing game sessions, and film showings.

Assess your successes and failures, seek feedback and do not get discouraged. There will be programs that are poorly attended or greeted with apathy. Adolescents also lash out as part of their need to develop autonomy. Don’t take it personally.

This process is a cycle. By definition a teen community is constantly changing. There will be new youths to get to know. The community they live in will also change as will the resources at your disposal. Build on your successes, and evaluate your failures. Never forget why your job is important.

About Eric Chamberlin

Prior to becoming a librarian I studied youth subcultures as part of a masters program at NYU. I'm a contributing author to Youth Cultures: Scenes, Subcultures and Tribes. After starting my career as a substitute librarian I have moved into youth services. I currently work for the San Diego Public Library System.
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4 Comments

  1. Thank you for writing this. I was going through a period of discouragement from low attendance at programs. you have provided sound advice I need to remember.

  2. I think I wrote this to remind myself of what I already knew because I was getting discouraged also. Attendance is down for a lot of programs YA and otherwise. Teens know what’s going on in the world and they are worried the same as everyone and like everyone they are “cocooning.” That doesn’t mean they don’t care.

    After I posted this, this morning two teens told me called the Mayor (of San Diego) and their City Councilman to protest proposed branch closures or hours reductions. They told them that the library was all there was to do in their community and they practically lived there. I’d never seen either of them at one of my programs, but just the fact that I have programs and created a teen area in the branch made them feel that this was their library and they were going to fight for it.

  3. Wow that’s great. There are teens that come here a lot, although they don’t always attend programs. I should look at it as a positive that they feel comfortable enough to come and hang here.

  4. It is refreshing to know that you are not alone when it comes to work in the Teens area. I love the Young Adult services. I am new to YA services and would say that I have had good success so far, but, I want so much more. I really want them to know and appreciate the relevance of the library to their growth and development. I have been forming relationships and I am currently working on a TAG as well as a volunteer policy. I have a couple of teens who are regulars, but it is still sometimes daunting when attendance to programmes are not as high as you anticipate. Especially, when much work has gone into it.

    Booktalking is something I want to do, but, I am really scared of the reception/reaction. I have booktalked only for children before. Help!!!!

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