Think BIG: Planning Large Teen Events at Your Library: Part 2 of 3

Part 2: Forming a Committee and Involving Teens

In the Part One of this series, I discussed why you should try big programming. Big programming isn’t so much a numbers game as it is an approach to program planning. However, with this approach, your programs will scale up over time. And bigger programs require more money, more planning, and more support.

Last weekend, our Teen Planning Committee and I ran a Library Comic-Con that attracted 100 people. This was a “big” program, in both planning and in numbers. We’re still learning from each experience, but I’ll walk you through our basic recipe for success.

Forming a Teen Committee

The most important part of big programming is having a Teen Planning Committee. If you have an established group, an idea for a big program can originate with them. If you don’t have a TAB committee established already, think of a program you’d like to do, then recruit teens to get involved.

When we first planned our Hunger Games program, we did not have a Teen Planning Committee. Up until a year ago, we had not found a way of successfullyorganizing a group like this in our town. When I first started this job, I ‘ advertised for students to join a teen group. I had a few kids, and while they were all consistent when it came time for me to fill out their National Honors Society paperwork, but none of them seemed consistently interested in helping withlibrary programming. I felt like a failure. Why couldn’t I interest these students?

With our Hunger Games event, we worked backwards. Instead of recruiting students to be on a Teen Planning Committee, we recruited students to work on the specific event. They joined the project with defined goals and a sense of purpose. This core group evolved organically into a more general Teen Planning Committee, which has since planned our Haunted Library and Comic-Con programs. If you don’t have a teen group, recruiting for a big program is a great way of getting teens involved and getting them on board to formally create a Teen Planning Committee to help with other projects in the future. Hearing the words “Would you like to help plan ___?” are a call to action. Asking students to simply join a group can encourage more passive involvement.

Important side note: make your big program and planning committee a chance for students to earn volunteer hours. It is an incentive for them to stay involved and shows that you are committed to their success outside the library.

Teen Involvement

The spirit of big programming is in teen planning, teen creativity, and teen leadership. This is not about planning an event and recruiting teens to provide free labor. This should be about empowering teens to create something themselves. This will give them confidence, life experience, and will make them feel like they are an important part of a community organization. Ideally, this will cement them as lifelong library users.

It took 3-4 months to plan our Hunger Games, Haunted Library, and Comic-Con events. The first 2-3 meetings should be about brainstorming and socializing. Teens should have a chance to get to know each other and either choose an idea for an event, or start thinking about the larger details for the event that is already planned. If teens are coming up with their own event, try to steer them towards planning something that appeals to a large demographic. If an event is about anime or zombies, your program is serving niche groups. However, there are plenty of events that appeal to all kinds of teens. Using our Hunger Games and Haunted Library examples, we piggybacked off the idea of a popular book, and also a popular holiday. Your teens will have a good grasp on what would be popular in your community.

Every student will come to the team with his or her own special set of skills and own personalities. Some students will be energetic and full of ideas and some students will be great at organizing. Some students will be loud and some will quiet. Working with a diversity of personalities is good for students. Some students who volunteer at the library aren’t involved in formal clubs at school, and haven’t been exposed to working with large groups of people. Zoe, a senior, says of her experience on Teen Planning Committee, “[I’ve gained] real world experience in creating, planning, and executing large-scale events. It has also taught me how to relate and work with many types of people.” Although some personalities might be more frustrating than others, Zoe says, “this [experience] has helped me to relax and not use yelling as a go-to response.” Big programs have helped me learn more about working with teenagers, and have helped teenagers learn more about working with each other.

Westport Library Volunteer Matt

Westport Library Volunteer Matt

Empowering teens to create their own program at a large community organization helps some students discover their ability for leadership, and gives them space to explore new roles for themselves. Matt, a junior on our committee, says, “Being on the Teen Planning Committee has been a life changing experience for me. Before, I adopted the role that I was proscribed in school – a quiet, not very popular kid who cut a very low profile. But the committee, with its inherently flexible nature and welcoming environment, has allowed me to explore whatever I think would be best and take an active role in. For example, at one of the first meetings I discovered that I am a natural leader, and that I actually do have something to contribute. I’ve discovered new and wonderful sides to myself I might not have found otherwise.” When I first met Matt, I could barely get a sentence out of him. Now, he is practically a part of our staff.

To give teens a chance to grow, allow time for socializating at every meeting and give students space to run with weird ideas. Many of our best programming ideas began as jokes, and then evolved into successful activities. Some, of course, remained inside jokes, but those are important to the group bonding process. In the long run, it was probably best that we didn’t have a creepy magician at our Haunted Library, or expect that Robert Downey, Jr., was going to pop in at our Comic-Con, or buy multiple Bedazzlers just so we could have them on hand. But having fun is a huge component of working with teens.

Running a Committee

Be on hand to guide the committee, take notes, and keep them on track. Make goals so that something is decided or planned at the end of each meeting. This way, 45 minutes won’t be spent deciding what color of tee shirts to order or who is the best member of The Avengers. One hour is usually a good amount of time for a meeting, however more time might be needed at future meetings, depending on what is being decided. We usually start off with meetings every other week at the beginning, and then move to weekly meetings 6 weeks prior to our event.

photo credit: Phyllis Groner

Members of our Teen Planning Committee at Comic-Con

Put trust in your students and set high expectations. If you take this seriously and they respect you, they will rise to the occasion and create something extraordinary. Most importantly, take your students seriously and respect them. If a student is missing meetings, try to get in touch with him or her. Show the student that you know their name, that you noticed they were gone, and that you care; don’t just write them off. If some students are shy, encourage students to work in small groups occasionally in order to create an environment where quieter students can be heard. If you notice a student making others (or you) feel uncomfortable, take him or her aside and address the situation. You want to create a safe place for students, free of bullying or sexual harassment. By establishing an environment of mutual respect, teens will become more invested in their event and in your organization.

If your event is large enough that you will need additional help, think about adding some adult committee members. These can be volunteers from the community or from the staff. In my experience, adult committee members should only be added in the last planning stages of your event. The ideas and planning should come from students; support should come from adults. Perhaps a parent or staff member is really good at coordinating food? Or building props? Or graphic design? Think about roles that adults can do to enhance the event. If an adult comes in and tries to take over or demeans the students in any way, address the situation immediately. Adults need to be respectful of teens and understand that they will be working under them. If it isn’t a good fit, you have the right to turn down help.

Plan of Action

Once your committee has an idea, it is time for you to think of logistics. Teens are there to be creative and to help plan; you’re there to deal with the grown-up details. Before you proceed with a big event, you need to keep these things in mind:

  1. Talk to your administration. This might be the scary part. There’s a big difference between saying you’re hosting Minecraft for 10 teens and planning a Comic-Con for 100. Look through Part One of this post for talking points. Having teens involved in planning teen programs sends a message that the library is committed to making teens feel like they are playing an active role at the library. Hosting larger events makes a statement that the library is committed to serving teens and that it is a place not just for books or homework.
  2. Think of your timeframe. As I mentioned, our Hunger Games, Haunted Library, and Comic-Con events took between three and four months to plan. If you’re planning something smaller, you can adjust this to fit your needs. However, choosing a solid date for your event should be one of the first things you do, even if you don’t use the entire time in between choosing a date and holding an event as active planning time.
  3. Money. This is something we’re all familiar with in libraries. How much money can you afford to spend on an event? What elements are you looking for in a program? Some ideas:
    • Speakers or entertainers: research their fees.
    • Food: estimate a budget, or brainstorm ways of getting donations from the community.
    • Competitions or Contests: estimate a budget for prizes or brainstorm ways of getting donations from the community
    • Decorations: If you plan to decorate, think about how detailed you would like to get. Our Hunger Games and Haunted Library events were elaborately decorated, but our committee made most of the decorations out of paint and butcher paper. Free food is a good motivator for giant crafting sessions.
    • Advertising: Lawn signs and banners are a great way to advertise your event. Price these out ahead of time.
    • Staff shirts: We had staff shirts at our Comic-Con last weekend and everybody loved it! Check around for competitive quotes.

    Where will you get money? Our library has started to sell tickets to larger events, but you can approach your Friends group, set aside money from your own budget, or focus on a couple of elements and do them cheaply. We’re librarians: we know how to stretch a budget!

  4. Double-check the details. It’s easy to get carried away with your committee’s big ideas. If you think an idea seems valid and exciting, check with administration as soon as possible. For example, our teens really wanted to have a bonfire at our Haunted Library program; the Fire Department didn’t agree. The students are still upset about this one. We ideally wanted to hold Comic-Con outdoors, but it turns out that a big tent costs thousands of dollars. The quicker you check on details, the quicker you can make decisions about your budget, program details, and volunteer jobs.

Now that you’ve established a great committee and have a basic plan, it’s time for your program.

In Part 3, we’ll discuss:

  • What’s the best format?
  • How will you organize your program?
  • Who will come?
  • How do you get staff involved?
  • How do you recruit support volunteers?

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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2 Comments

  1. This is a great article. I have been wanting to 1) know how to involve students in the library programs and 2) host larger events. Thanks for putting together this series. Can’t wait for #3 to come out.

  2. Way to go, Jaina. I love how you use your intelligence to fulfill your passion for excellence. I also dig your commitment to garnering community respect for your teen audience. They are so awesome and so few people get that.

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