Five Tips For Organizing Your First Library Teen Festival

by Eleanor Guldbeck

Have you been running teen events for years at your library but want to try something bigger? Would you love to see hundreds of teens invade your library? Are you ready to shake up your library a bit and have a completely new event? Do you want an excuse to have a rock band play at your library, have a zombie walk, and have a karaoke contest on the same day?  Young adult librarians all have experience putting together fun, quirky and amazing programs for teens. The trick is to bundle these activities together on one day, make them bigger, better, and louder and add a few extra special events.

As Young Adult Librarians know, there aren’t many places teens can hang out, much less attend a safe and fun all-day festivals. There are many Family Festivals out there but very few festivals just for teens. The Miami–Dade Public Library System has been attracting over 1,000 teens to the Teen Zone Festival for the past five years. Over the years we have featured teen rock bands, speed haiku, video gaming tournaments, manga giveaways, Hunger Game Crafts, book discussions, Cosplay contests, story slams, Steampunk crafts, zombie walks and more.

I want to share with you some of the tips we have learned over the years.

Prepare a Timeline

You already know that you are better off planning this event months in advance.  There are a lot of decisions that you will need to make right away, like the date, the location, the budget, and the staffing level.  Plus, there may be many deadlines that you can’t control such as  marketing, permits, contacting authors or booking a local band.   Brainstorm with staff and library teens and spend time imagining your dream event. For inspiration visit other cultural institutions and festivals in your areas, be they comic-cons, a county fair or art openings. Then contemplate your budget, and look into sponsorships.  Most importantly, write a timeline with the deadline for all the activities.

Staffing Smarts

The budgets, the supplies, the activities, the facility–we all know these are trivialities compared to having competent and enthusiastic people plan and run an event. More staff equals more ideas, more outreach, and more teens. First look to fellow YA staff members to help plan, organize and staff the activities for your event.   YA Librarians have great ideas and have the experience to back it up. But also look towards non-YA staff.  Many staff members at your library will have a passion that they are excited to share with teens, be it a craft or hosting a Dungeons and Dragons program.

As the event organizer, you need to delegate as much as possible, so place staff in charge of their activity, including drawing up a budget and making a supply list.  This is a good experience for library staff who may not have this opportunity otherwise.

Having teen volunteers help with your event can be an enormous help too.   Remember, though, that the teens will want to join in the fun too and won’t appreciate being stuck in one spot while their friends are all playing games or watching the bands.

Decide Whom to Invite

Since you are going to make it a teen festival, you will have to make a few decisions about who can attend.  Will parents be allowed in? What about the little brothers, sisters and cousins that they are babysitting?  How about the teen who has been coming to your library for years and just turned 19 last week? Are you going to ID the teens? Whatever you decide, make sure that all the staff know and agree on the policy and on how you will be enforcing the rules.  Believe it or not, the Teen Zone is popular enough that MDPLS hires an extra security guard to staff this event area and help enforce the age rule.  Being too popular is a problem you want, but nonetheless it can add real stress on an already chaotic day.

Spillover Areas

Save yourself some trouble and create an area for non-teens to be diverted.  The “Mario Jump” sound effect emanating from the video gaming and the shrieks of guitar from the teen rock bands will attract crowds of all ages.  And who would blame the kids and adults from wanting to join in on the fun? Unfortunately, we have to bar the tweens, children and parents from entering in order to preserve the true teen atmosphere. The non-teens discourage real teens from entering the Teen Zone and would limit our activities to kid-friendly events (Goodbye  Zombies!)

To help solve this challenge we set up a few craft tables outside the entrance to the Teen Zone for tweens. We also set up Connect Four and other popular and simple kids games outside the entrance to the Teen Zone.  (Be aware that this may mean one extra staff member to supervise the area.) Last year we also designed a simple “Parent Lounge” with comfy chairs and magazines that was right outside the videogaming area. Parents were able to keep an eye on their teens without invading their space.

Marketing

After all the planning, staff time and money your library is expending on this event, you will want to attract as many attendees as possible.  Incorporate promotions for your teen festival into your existing marketing venues such as your website and outreach visits. If you can, have a marketing budget for this event only. Our best old-fashioned promotional items have been full-color bookmarks with eye-catching graphics on one side and event information on the reverse side.  Of course social media is the obvious route and this event should be heavily promoted on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, etc.  We also rely on a few well-connected teens who tell their friends and promote the event themselves.  Year after year, teens have told us that they heard about this event from “word of mouth.” You know your teens, so talk to them about the event, and visit their schools to spread the word.

Conclusion

If you have never run a teen festival before, this is your chance. The teen book publishing industry is booming, and we need teens (future voters and taxpayers) en masse at the library.  Planning and executing a teen festival will give you great professional satisfaction and will boost your career skills.   I guarantee that the morning after you throw your first teen festival you will already be brainstorming ideas for the next one.  Have fun!

Eleanor Guldbeck, Youth Services, Main Library, Miami-Dade Public Library System

3 thoughts on “Five Tips For Organizing Your First Library Teen Festival

  1. What a great list of tips for planning and developing a successful festival. Thank you so much for sharing your successful experiences with colleagues.

  2. Good list. I’ll add 3 tips because we’ve put on a couple of successful “Teen Lit Fest” events:
    1) Connect with area teachers and school librarians: We sent a letter to every one in our area along with a poster.
    2) Make sure the teen-targeted marketing mentions “Food and Prizes” (if you’re offering them – and you should be if you want them to come).
    3) Encourage teachers to offer EXTRA CREDIT for attendance. This is an idea I got from a high school student who reads my books and advised on the event. It’s been a huge draw.
    Good luck with your event!

  3. Thanks for the input, Chris. I think as a matter of course seasoned librarians will “connect with area teachers/school librarians.” But it”s always good to mention again. Often, YA librarians will also send pdf files of promotional materials for upcoming events in advance of actual visits (or in lieu of where staff shortages may make physical outreach more difficult) as well as utilize social media and email “blasts” to YA lists that have been compiled from attendees at programming and outreach events. Being familiar with the Teen Zone festival, which is a very important component to the Miami-Dade Public Library System’s acclaimed International Art of Storytelling Festival, I know there has been, in years past, a small budget for marketing so that the event also benefited from promotion on public radio and other media outlets at times targeted to teens. I don’t know the scale of your Teen Lit Fest, but this might be something to explore. Thank you!

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