Confession: I have a graveyard of programs that did not work at my library. I am an enthusiastic programmer, and with no quantitative data on what teen programs worked at my library in the decade before I arrived, I have enjoyed free rein in attempting a vast variety of programs. Unfortunately, any great number of these programs have fallen flat, especially technology-related teen programs.

So with all apologies to Teen Tech Week, I’m declaring that technology-related programming does not work at my library.

Okay, maybe that’s a bit bold of a statement. Technology-related programming has not yet worked at my library is more accurate. To date we have attempted the following programs for teens:

  • how to sign up for and use different social media sites
  • cool customizations for social media sites
  • photo editing software and online tools
  • sharing photographs online
  • online research and citations
  • beginner, intermediate, and advanced use of Microsoft Office suite
  • safe web surfing
  • a social photography club (with cameras provided)
  • a video-creation studio (with cameras and software provided)

Based on patron feedback, these are the technology-related programs that the community wants and needs from the library. Every week I get asked by teen patrons how to use Microsoft Office, how to edit photographs, and all the other program topics too! Before adding the technology-related programs to the schedule, I polled patrons for what they would like to do with technology at the library. However, when it came to signing up for a program, or simply showing up at a program without preregistering, we saw zilch attendance.

Based on attendance at comparable programs, we know that the marketing strategy for these programs should be working. We advertise on three local radio stations; on the daily announcements at the high school and junior high; on posters throughout town; in the newspaper; on Facebook; in seasonal brochures; and, most importantly, through word of mouth.

At the end of the day, it is not an efficient use of library resources to continue attempting technology-related teen programming at my library. No matter how amazing the Teen Tech Week resources seem, because the community has not demonstrated that it wants technology-related programming, I will not be adding Teen Tech Week to our program calendar in 2012. With a slew of other programs that have proven successful, I feel that I am being a good steward of library resources by passing on technology-related programs.

Is there a program that bucks trends and doesn’t work at your library?
Tell us about it in the comments.

About Jacqui Taylor

Jacqui Taylor is the head of Youth Services at a small Ohio library. She participated in the 2011 YALSA Mentoring Program, and served on YALSA's Baker and Taylor Award Jury and Indiana's Children and Youth Professional Development Division.

12 Thoughts on “No Teen Tech Week at My Library

  1. Beth Yoke on February 22, 2012 at 9:31 am said:

    YALSA encourages people to think more broadly about what opportunities Teen Tech Week offers. Teen Tech Week doesn’t have to be limited to tech-focused programming. Here are three quick examples of how Teen Tech Week is much more than programming: 1) an advocacy opportunity for libraries to bring elected officials, policy makers and other movers and shakers into your library to show them all of the great non-print resources that are available in today’s libraries; 2) an opportunity to reach out to parents of teens with information or education. Many parents, as multiple articles and studies have shown, are anxious about keeping their teens safe online; 3) a community service opportunity where teens can help senior citizens learn important digital literacy skills, or where a library’s TAG can hold a fundraiser in order to purchase a computer or other equipment for a local shelter or group home. What other great Teen Tech Week ideas to folks have that aren’t centered around a how-to type of tech program? Share them here!

  2. hi,

    those were all common ideas. teens know how to use social media, they’re usually not interested in spending leisure time learning an academic skill and what teen wants to learn about safe web surfing? if anything, they want to learn how to circumvent safe web searching software.

    of course every community will be different, but here are some ideas that i’ve seen work:

    – digital scavenger hunts (with prizes) = information literacy and search skills

    – old tech new tech – interactive displays comparing, “old” 80s-90s tech items – think atari, pagers, old huge cell phones and card catalogs = this gives teens a chance to compare how they currently play and access info with the past

    – gaming guides – not all teens know how to access the best video games via library or personal computers – teens create guides w/ pictures, tips, lobbys, links etc. to help other teens become a part of their community – (info lit, community building and knowledge sharing)

  3. Sorry it’s such a struggle Jacqui.

    Danno makes a good point, teens like to come to programs that take them outside of the academic framework. I’ve found that if you have a program that gives teens the chance to use technology to perhaps create book trailers or screencasts on their favorite social media – that can then be used by the library to teach others how to use the technology – they are much more interested than if it’s for a specifically educational purpose.

    Also, there are great opportunities for tech/TTW programs that bring the library to teens who might not come into the library. What about a movie making contest in which teens make Xtranormal videos about a topic of interest and then the library hosts a face-to-face red carpet event at which teens show their videos? Or, the red-carpet event could be in real-time using Skype or Google+ Hangouts or something like that so that the library again goes to where the teens are. Even without coming to the library teens can be a part of a library event.

    Teens are more and more using Twitter so another thing that could work is a Tweet-up at a specific time at which teens talk about a book or movie or anime or…. Everyone uses the same hashtag and has a conversation from all different locations. This could be a great for the the school and public library to collaborate and maybe teens could volunteer to facilitate the Tweet-up. (YALSA is having a Hunger Games Tweet-up on March 8 which I think is a great idea for teens and librarians.)

  4. Jacqui Milliern on February 22, 2012 at 10:25 am said:

    Excellent points, Beth and Danno.

    @Beth–You’re quite right about TTW being about more than programming. I can open our advocacy efforts to teen participation during TTW. Also, I definitely agree about parents needing and wanting technology-related programs. All of the programs I listed, excepting the photography club and video studio, were available as adult programs as well. Some, but not all, of those programs had participants.

    @Danno–I very much like your program ideas for a digital scavenger hunt and a display of old and new tech. I will consider asking around the community to do such a display next year. We will be holding two digital scavenger hunts at Summer Reading Program (a passive one over the course of several weeks, and an active one at our End of SRP Party).

  5. Jacqui Milliern on February 22, 2012 at 10:38 am said:

    @Linda–My experience is 100% aligned with yours, Linda, when you say that attendance demonstrates that teens prefer tech programs outside of the academic framework. However, academic-type programs are what they explicitly asked for, and what we see them struggling with. We are also offering the photography club and a video-creation studio, neither of which are being utilized.

    Given that my library serves a rural area, I think that Tweet-ups, Skype, and Google+Hangouts are a great opportunity! However, our rural area is also low-income. Thus the digital divide is keeping us from fully realizing these opportunities at this point. As our community technology survey demonstrates, only the smallest percentage of our community has high speed internet access or digital tools like ereaders, tablets, and laptops, outside of the library. Therefore, unless they came to the library to create their content (which I am happy to have them do!), I do not believe such programs will work at my library at this time.

  6. In general, I struggle with some of the issues surrounding this specific look at technology related programs. Teens not coming to programs they specifically requested (at days and times they said they were free, mind you). Programs not being successful when they are successful at other libraries in our county or metro-area. That said, our library is out-performing every other library in our county in terms of circulation, and we are full of teens after school every day.

    I have one teen interested in book clubs, but 2 different iterations in the last 3 years have all ended up with a staff person and this great teen, no one else. We switched to a writing club after hearing a branch nearby was having tons of interest in theirs. I tried a knitting club complete with free needles and yarn to keep for each teen. I have built relationships with teachers at the high school who will help me advertise for programs in their classrooms in addition to our usual publicity… and still no one comes.

    I will not stop trying new things or trying things that have worked for other libraries, but I’m also not going to beat myself up when teens don’t come. Just because they don’t want to hang out with me and learn stuff doesn’t mean they won’t come to the library– and in the end, that’s still a win.

  7. Beth…LOVE the idea of taking the knowledge of technology to an underservered population. I am going to bring this up at my next TAB meeting! (I am envisioning a year-long- TTW 2012 to TTW 2013- fundraising effort to gain funds for a local shelter.)

    And Jacqui…I have so much respect for you for posting this. Sometimes it is hard to admit that we plan the perfect program…only to have no one show up. Also, I appreciate you including your list of previous programs.

    A few ideas. Do you have a TAB? Maybe you can make part of their membership eligability that they must attend X number of programs each year. Or have them deliver flyers to their school bulletin boards or morning/afternoon announcements. We push SO much program info out to local school librarians and teachers, and we hope that they push the info out to their students.

    My TTW program is actually a book discussion. It is the first meeting of our new teen genre book club. (Each month we choose a new genre/theme, instead of a new title. That way we all get to discuss books we like that just happen to be the same genre.) Afterwards we are having a tech petting zoo with the library’s iPad and e-readers.

    We are also hosting a TTW challenge, where teens who complete 2 of 6 tech-related challenges get a prize and entered into the grand prize drawing for a pair of ear buds. The challenges include attending the tech book discussion, attending the petting zoo, uploading a picture of themselves reading to our facebook page, and more.

  8. Jacqui Milliern on February 22, 2012 at 3:16 pm said:

    @April–No formal TAB. We have a corps of teen volunteers who I gather in great galumphing groups every quarterly to socialize, bounce ideas off of, and advertise new books, programs, and library features. I very much like the idea of the petting zoo. My library has just acquired three ereaders. Perhaps I can incorporate them into this summer’s Teen Social Book Club (organized by genre, much like yours, and we will be creating book trailers recommending the teens’ favorite reads of the week). I LOVE the idea of rewarding teens for uploading a picture of themselves reading! That may just become one of our digital scavenger hunt challenges.

  9. Jacqui, will you be my librarian? Your post is so thoughtful, as are your responses to the comments. A bunch of thoughtful comments here, I should add.

  10. We had this experience last summer when we planned a Vampire Diaries program. The kids were SO excited about it when we talked to them, our TAB enthusiastically gave their approval, we scheduled it at the library after hours (which the teens here typically love) and instead of the 40-50 kids I honestly thought we’d get, we had 8. Sigh.

    Thanks for posting this. It’s good to know that all libraries have areas in which we struggle to get patrons in the door. I stopped holding after school programs for the elementary school kids because we were having abysmal attendance and it wasn’t worth the staff time to keep preparing and running those programs. Now we’re concentrating on school breaks and summer and we have much better attendance! Sometimes you just have to stop what’s not working and regroup, see if you can serve your kids a different way.

  11. I have to applaud Jacqui for telling it like it is instead of touting everything a success, even a much advertised and supposedly wanted program. When the economy first took the big hit, we couldn’t keep families, kids and adults out of the library. We had holiday programming, events, classes, etc. and even increased our elusive teen patronage. But this was temporary. With the end of unemployment benefits, we lost the UE filers, followed by a loss of the family programming attendance mostly due to travel costs and stress. We, too, are a rural community with high poverty rates. Our patrons have limited affordable technology available. As a small, rural library, we also have limited technology compared to our larger sister libraries. Our library funding continues to decrease while operating costs rise. Throw into that mix a library board that is not progressive, let alone comfortable with technology and the option, let alone the practicality of some really great tech ideas, is like watching an re-run of Lifestyle of the Rich & Famous. But I’ll keep watching the YALSA site and reading the posts for any idea that I might be able to refashion.

  12. I have found that the best progams are the ones the Teens come up with themselves. They then have a vested interest in making them fly. Ask them and they will come. Usually for little or no money too.

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