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.