Think BIG: Planning Large Teen Events at Your Library: Part 1 of 3

Part 1: Why Should I Try Big Programming?

When I mention to some people that I’ve helped organize events that were not only staffed by teens, but also attended by over 100 of their peers, I get a variety of reactions: admiration, respect, but mainly people questioning my sanity. As someone who could get 6 teens in room on a good day (maybe more if there was pizza), making the jump from small, niche programs to taking a chance on planning something big required a lot of work and a big leap of faith. Now that I’ve lived to survive two large events and am in the midst of planning a third, I feel like I’m at a point where I can share what I’ve learned so perhaps you won’t end up crawling into a ball and crying when your administration suggests you “think outside the box” with your programming.

So what is big programming? “Big programming” is not a game of numbers; it is a mindset. Like most of you, I host some programs on a regular basis. We have an Anime Club, a Zombie Club, and a Minecraft program. We have a small group of devoted followers who come to these events and these programs are definitely one of my favorite parts of my job. However, these programs serve a niche audience. If 50 teens suddenly showed up to Zombie Club, I wouldn’t count it as “big,” since I would still be serving the same group.

Big programming is about planning events that appeal to a large demographic of teens. It’s about bringing in students who haven’t been to the library in years, or students who normally come to the library just for homework. It’s about creating a buzz in your community and amongst teens. Most importantly, big programs involve using teens in the planning process. If teens help plan and run your program, their friends will come, their friends’ friends will come, and your event will grow larger. Big programs don’t have to start with 100 participants. They can start with 20 or 30. ‘ Can you do an open mic? A poetry slam? A talent show? An art show? Can you center an event around a book or movie?
Our library has run two successful large events: a’ Hunger Games‘ program in March of 2012 and a’ Haunted Library‘ program in November of 2012. Both drew over 100 participants and were planned and run by a devoted Teen Planning Committee with the assistance of adult volunteers and staff. We are planning a’ Library Comic-Con‘ for mid-May.

Hunger Games participants salute Panem.

Hunger Games participants salute Panem.

Entrance to the Haunted Library

Entrance to the Haunted Library

I’m a Teen Services Librarian. I know how overwhelming it is to keep on top of programming, books, reference, technology, making book lists, and the constant quest to find the holy grail of books for the 11-yr-old student who reads on a grad school level but can’t read books with sex, violence, or swearing. Why try big programming in the first place?

Big programming changes the way teens see the library.

At our Hunger Games and Haunted Library events, I overheard dozens of conversations that were of the “I haven’t been to the library in years!” variety. Now I’ve seen those kids back for other programs, for reader’s advisory, and for homework help. The bigger the program, the bigger the demographic you will catch.

Additionally, some of these teens might become volunteers for future big programs. Some middle schoolers I know are eager to help in the future, but they are SO excited about our upcoming Catching Fire program that they want to come as participants one last time.

Participants reenact the Hunger Games in the book stacks.

Participants reenact the Hunger Games in the book stacks.

Big programming can bring middle schoolers and high schoolers together.

Whether you are using high school volunteers to run an event for middle schoolers, or creating an event that appeals to a wide demographic, you are involving teens of all ages.

Big programming changes the way your administration and staff views teen services.

So much of teen services is done out of the view of staff. Maybe you’re in your teen room talking about books, maybe you’re in a conference room running an anime program, or maybe you saved a teen’s paper the night before it was due. I know that prior to me doing big teen events the only time my teen programs got notice were usually when one of the kids from my Zombie Club would decide to wear fake blood to the library and then try to check out books.

Your library director doesn’t usually get to see what you do, which means teen services aren’t usually on his/her brain. However, if you propose taking over the library by planning an event for 100+ teens, or you are drawing lots of attention to any sort of programming you’re doing, administration will notice and might even help. Our Hunger Games and Haunted Library events took place on Friday nights after our library was closed. We decorated most of the library, changed the lighting, had music, and took advantage of the varieties of spaces available to us to run simultaneous activities. Several members of our staff and administration came to help at these events, getting into the spirit by wearing costumes and interacting with teens. They were exposed to a different demographic and got to see the value of teen services at our library.

Library staff getting into the Hunger Games spirit.

Library staff getting into the Hunger Games spirit.

Big programming brings in publicity for your library.

If you do something fun and new, the community pays attention. Our Hunger Games event was covered by USA Today and Publisher’s Weekly and brought great press to our library. The local press and blogs also wrote generously about our Hunger Games, Haunted Library, and our upcoming Comic-Con. Library administration is always excited about good press, and stories in the local paper remind your community that your library has teen programs.

Big programming shows your organization’s continued commitment to drug-free/alcohol-free programming.

We don’t think about this often as teen librarians, but I think it’s something we should recognize. When you have a room of ten kids, the first thing that comes to your mind isn’t “if they weren’t here, they’d be home getting drunk.” But really, if you’re involving teens in a community organization, they are less likely to engage in these types of behaviors in the future. Or, simply by having an event on a Friday or Saturday night, you are providing an alternative to other types of activities. In a town like ours, everything closes early, there is no movie theater, no bowling alley, and by us having a big event on a Friday night, we are providing a safe place for parents to bring their teens.

Since we’ve covered the “why,” in our next installments we will cover the “how.” In Part 2, I will focus on the importance of equating big programming with teen planning and teen engagement and will give you tips on how to get teens involved at your library.

Part 2: Forming a Committee and Involving Teens

Part 3: Marketing, Creating, and Running Your Program

 

 

About Jaina Lewis

Teen Services Librarian at The Westport Library in Westport, CT since 2006. Minnesotan at heart. Current chair of Teen Tech Week. @jainalibrarian
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