At the end of this week, the masses will descend upon my library here in Texas. Our Summer Reading Club kickoff starts as soon as school gets out, and we’re expecting pandemonium. Most of our participants, just like in years before, will be elementary-aged, and we’ll hope, just like in years before, that we’ll see more teens that aren’t our volunteers.
The thing is, at least with us, the number of teens we’ll see this summer doesn’t even begin to come close to the number of children that will be running around the library. We’re in a suburban area with a lot of neighborhoods, and we’re right down the street from a high school, so what gives? Simply put, we’re in competition for their attention. No big surprise there. They have summer jobs and their own activities, and for many, the library falls low on their list of priorities. Many of us have found that even when teens do come to the library during the summer, they get their books, magazines, CDs, and movies and leave without ever hanging out here.
Conversely, some branches get more teens than they know what to do with. One of our branches across town has a much better showing of a teen population, but for the most part, they can count on seeing the same people. The question is, how do we get teens who don’t normally come to the library because of homework and after-school activities to visit in the summer? I think the biggest problem is perception. The library can’t possibly be a fun place to hang out because it’s a library.
But what if we have a space just for teens that feels less like a library and more like a place where they can be themselves? What if we don’t make teens adhere to the Summer Reading Club formula we use for children and give them something completely different (and what if our incentives — if you’re in favor of incentives, which I am — don’t suck)? What if we connect with them the way that requires little to no effort on their part? Having a Facebook page is great, but they have to see it to be a fan of it, and that’s effort. What if we fit our programs and our services to meet their interests and needs before we stretch their trust trying to introduce something new?
I know these ideas have worked for other libraries. What’s worked for you? Leave a comment!