Last Thursday, I finished the fabulous two-part webinar offered by ALA Editions called “Collaborating with Teens to Build Better Library Programs”. The presenter, Jennifer Velásquez, is the Coordinator of Teen Services for the San Antonio Public Library System. The bulk of the webinar was about working with teens to build programs they really want, and it was great. Multiple blog posts could be written about that, and I left inspired and excited.
However, one of the most intriguing parts of the webinar came up in a question asked by a participant in the chat. She asked, “What do you do when younger kids want to come to your teen programs?” This is something I’ve had to deal with before, as I’m sure many teen librarians have, and I’m never sure of the answer. Jennifer’s answer was great—she said she’s tasked with serving teens ages 13-18, and that’s the audience that can come to programs. It’s the audience she’s committed to.
I agree with that. We are committed to serving a certain age range (in my library a “teen” is considered 11-17) and that’s who we build our programs for. Presumably, patrons outside of that range have programs built for them that they could be attending. But in reality, when no one is showing up to your program except younger kids, what can you actually do? I’ve definitely had programs that have only attracted kids aged 8-10, and I don’t want to turn them away, especially if that means not doing the program at all.
I think that was one of the most empowering things about this webinar. If programs are only attracting younger kids, it might mean that those programs would be more suited for a younger audience—that they aren’t truly teen programs. We talked about the fact that it’s easy to make programs teens want to go to: just ask them! One of Jennifer’s main points was that teens want input in their library—they want to feel like they have a voice. If we give them that voice, we are much more likely to get them to feel invested in the library and want to come to the programs we run. Plus, if we ask them to give us ideas, we are much more likely to plan programs that are age-appropriate and that they want to attend.
What are your thoughts? Have you had success planning programs collaboratively with teens? What advice can you offer to librarians who are new to this approach?