Most libraries, like my own, have a core group of kids know and love our programs and are super excited about libraries in general. But, especially in the summer, these kids are often accompanied by siblings in a group a bit more disconnected from library services: tweens. Tagging along with their siblings, tweens who are unfamiliar with our library programming often end up exposed to our summer offerings. What can we do to keep them coming back?
1) Plan programming that interests everyone. Summer programming for teens in my library serves both middle school and high school students (we’re not large enough to divide it up). So we work hard to find programming ideas that will appeal to both age groups: crafts that older kids won’t find lame, cooking classes that 6-12th graders will all enjoy, a photobooth night where the kids can post to Instagram until they drop. We don’t have a lot of resources to work with, but if you’re not planning a program that will appeal to the wide swath of “teen” ages, you’re going to lose these kids. If your library is large enough to support separate middle school and high school programming, fantastic! Plan things that you know your middle schoolers love! Crafts! Minecraft! Book club! Ask them what they want to see and then provide it.
2) Talk to them about middle grade AND young adult. As soon as the kids in my town hit sixth grade, they want to books from the teen center where our YA collection is–on the other side of the library from juvenile fiction. And that’s fantastic! But I’ve had several conversations with some awesome middle schoolers about middle grade books, publisher’s age recommendations, and how I logistically can’t shelve MG in the teen center or double-buy titles. As soon as a 12-year-old sees the “Ages 10-14” note inside of a book, they give themselves permission to be in the children’s department again. Not only has this opened up more of the library’s collection for some of my younger readers, this is a great intro conversation for an ongoing readers’ advisory relationship!
3) Ask them to volunteer. Kids can volunteer here at age 13, and I’ve always had more tweens than high school students sign up for Summer Reading Program volunteer work. It makes them feel like they’re a part of something; giving them real responsibilities makes them feel valued and increases their investment in the program. It can help them build relationships with other kids they may or may not know from school. I’ve also seen some really neat mentoring relationships develop between kids who are nervous about high school and high school students who are willing to share knowledge with them. Just be sure to be present while your students are volunteering–not every relationship between a 13-year-old and an 18-year-old is appropriate.
4) Feed ‘em and reward ‘em. Ok, this one is a no-brainer, but: I have food at every teen program. I do guessing jars filled with candy each week for teens. At each program, I give out a few small door prizes–ARCs, Upstart incentives, that kind of thing. And you know what? Even though that’s pretty par for the course, even though everyone always does that because it’s standard operating procedure, it’s important. Because to a rising 7th grader who’s used to sitting in a room of 200+ people for a K-6 program, a slice of pizza and a personal greeting is novel. It’s a treat. And it’s a way to show them that they’re important to us.
What is your library doing to serve your tween patrons this summer?