Thinking Big About … Teen Advisory Boards and Library Programs

Have you ever planned and implemented a program for the young adults of your library only to have a handful of teens show up or worse, none at all? There is nothing more disheartening than to pour your time, expertise and heart into a program only to have it go thud. To paraphrase Mr. Burns, the poet not the Machiavellian owner of the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant, the best laid plans of mice and young adult librarians oft go awry. So what’s a librarian to do? One solution that has worked remarkably well at our library is to create a Teen Advisory Board (TAB).

A Teen Advisory Board is a win/win situation for you and your library. It incorporates your teens as direct stakeholders in their library, instilling a greater sense of pride and responsibility for the programming and collection, and by having a monthly meeting with your TAB, you are granted a direct link to the inner workings of the teenage mind while also fostering deeper relationships with your young adult patrons.

So how do you get a Teen Advisory Board going? The first order of business is to create an application. The application that I use is pretty simple, I ask for their name, age, grade, school and email address plus a few easy questions like “why do you want to be a part of the teen advisory board?” and “what is your favorite book?” or “what would you like to see occur at your library?” Initially the board started out with only 8 members, but now our ranks have swelled to 20 teens. We have members from a variety of private and public and home schools, representing all grades from 7th through 12th. Our board has become so popular that we only take new applicants during the month of August.

Our TAB members gather together on the first Monday of each month to talk about programs, books, music, movies, Summer Reading, etc. This past summer they decided they didn’t like the theme of Make Waves @ Your Library. Instead they came up with Pirates vs. Ninjas @ Your Library. We had great fun building graphics and programs around their homegrown theme. Sometimes I find myself in a programming rut, and I can always turn to my Teen Advisory Board to give me new ideas. For instance, one member suggested we show college football at the library on a Saturday. College football is probably the single greatest uniter (and divider) of the citizens of Alabama. We served barbecue and rolled out the widescreen television and the kids loved it. I would have never conceived of something so simple and yet popular despite the prevalence of Alabama and Auburn t-shirts, bumper stickers, flags and hats staring me in the face each day. I can also run program ideas by the board for a thumbs up or thumbs down. They are far better judges of what will motivate their peers to visit the library. As an added incentive, I hold a lock-in at the library once a year for Teen Advisory Board members only. Plus membership looks great on a college or job application!’ So if you find yourself in a programming slump or you just can’t seem to please your teenage patrons throw the ball back in their court and form your very own Teen Advisory Board!

YALSA is sponsoring a contest, “Thinking Big About Advocacy,” wherein your good ideas can turn into cash money for teen programs! ‘ The Thinking Big About Advocacy Contest is being implemented as part of YALSA president Kim Patton’s “Thinking Big” theme. It is designed to recognize the advocacy work performed by YALSA members at public or secondary school libraries (middle, junior high, or high school), and empower others to follow their lead.

Following the application process, one first place winner will receive $500.00 to use towards their YA programs, and four runners up will receive $100.00 to use toward their YA programs.

If you’  are a YALSA member who has organized a campaign to bring a new service or program for YAs to your library, hosted an event to raise public awareness about the need for YA Librarians or YA Spaces in your library, or has found some creative way to share your message with the community, download a contest application and tell us about it!

Complete contest rules and electronic applications are available at’ www.ala.org/yalsa/awards&grants. Funding provided for this contest by the Friends of YALSA.

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