Justifying Teen Programs

For some of us, it’s an uphill battle advocating for the teens in our libraries. Budgets are never quite large enough, there’s never enough time to do everything, so if any group gets the short end of the stick, it’s our teens. We all know how important it is to have teen programming and teen spaces and an excellent teen collection, but it can be difficult getting the higher-ups to see it our way. You might find, as I have, that you need to justify your teen programs beyond getting teens in the door.

No one really questions the benefits of Storytime for the kids. It’s fairly obvious how it fits in with the library’s mission. A teen Halloween party, on the other hand, might be subject to more scrutiny. Recently, I found out that the Halloween party I’d been planning for our teens didn’t pass muster in its current state. It wasn’t enough to try something to increase our program attendance. Our circ starts are awesome, but we have an unfortunate floor plan for our teens, so they don’t really have a place of their own to hang out. They get their books and go, which has made it a lot harder in creating relationships and encouraging them to come to programs. There was no way I was giving up on this party. Instead of a Halloween party, it’s now a Favorite Character party, where you must come dressed as your favorite book character (and act the part, if you’re really good).  The activities we’ll have will tie in to our collection, like YA horror trivia, and we’ll be more book-focused than Halloween-focused.

The key to justifying a program or a service for teens is two-parted. First, tie it to your library’s mission. Say that your mission statement includes words like informational and enriching your community. There you go. Teens are part of the community and the Favorite Character party will enrich their lives by widening their exposure to the YA collection and allowing them to use their creativity to enhance what they’ve read to a tangible form while testing their knowledge and sparking their interest to seek more information about the horror genre.

Second, beyond the direct result of such a program, look for other possible objectives. For example, providing a program for teens not only accomplishes the objectives of the program, but also gives teens a feeling of being welcome in the library. Teens who feel welcome in the library may be more interested in volunteer opportunities at the library. Teens who volunteer can take over tasks, such as shelving or shelf reading, from staff members, who are then free to complete other tasks. This in turn can lead to improved customer service because staff members will be able to spend more time with patrons and will be less stressed about helping someone with a particularly difficult or time-consuming problem because they will know that they have the time to devote to the problem.

It would be great if we could have teen programs just because they’re fun and it’s what our teens want, but a lot of us are under constraints that are out of our hands. Being prepared to justify your programs might mean that you’ll need to broaden your focus to find the positive outcomes.

4 thoughts on “Justifying Teen Programs

  1. Good point! I love coming up with ideas, but it’s important to know why they’re interesting, relevant, and important, especially when you’re in a field that is so misunderstood as library science. I know you meant mostly justifying your program to higher-ups, but this is great stuff to keep in mind when appealing to taxpayers, policymakers, and parents, too.

  2. I find that library staff working with teens sometimes have a hard time explaining why they do what they do with and for teens and it’s the why that’s often most important when talking with colleagues, staff, administrators, stakeholders, funders, etc. Of course we provide programs that are fun but why should the library get funding when teens can have fun in lots of other community venues? I also find that when the why is focused on how the program helps teens – a greater exposure to literature, gaining of social competencies, gaining support from adults in the community, etc. – the message resonates more strongly. I worry sometimes that the why comes across as the library gets something from teens. But, really we should be talking about what teens get from the library? What value the library adds to their lives.

  3. There’s a great quote from a TED talk given by Simon Sinek: “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” The talk is about how leaders can inspire change and action -http://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action.html .
    I think this has to apply to teen services. The way library staff, board members, administrators and stakeholders view success and services needs to be revised and updated. Library services are not just about numbers. I don’t think teen librarians/staff need to justify how they program; I think admin, boards, etc. need to justify why libraries should provide comprehensive services to children and adults and ignore the tween/teen segment of the population which drives trends etc. I just finished an article by Anthony Bernier who writes “We need our own vision of what libraries should be in the life of YAs, not what needy YAs are in the life of libraries.” Given that many people, including adult patrons, are questioning the relevancy of libraries in the 21st century, it stands to reason that libraries should reassess their priorities and provide services to all people starting with teens.

  4. You make a great point here about justifying your program. I think so many of us understand the need to keep statistics and positive data to help support our causes, but sometimes it’s not enough to justify different activities within our program. I like how you reassessed your Halloween party to a more specific theme. I know when I have an idea and it gets shot down, I have a hard time looking at ways to develop the idea further. The easy out is to give up the idea, but that doesn’t help your patrons if you give up.

    In the end you are still getting what you want, and you might have even more teen patrons attending. I know I’d be excited to dress up as my favorite book character.

    Keep on fighting the good fight! This was a great, inspirational blog post. Thank you for sharing!

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