Before last summer, whenever I heard the term “teen-led programming,” this feeling of ennui would descend upon me like a black cloud. Okay, I exaggerate a bit, but let’s just say I felt . . . defeated.
I loved the concept. How exciting to have programming not only for teens, but led by teens! What better way to offer programming that is relevant and exciting for them? But even with an active Teen Advisory Board, I had never been able to make it happen. No one ever had the time, commitment, or desire to do the work of leading a program.
Then, last summer I planned and facilitated a Teen Writing Camp that was well attended by both teen program regulars and newbies. We did all kinds of writing exercises, talked to YA authors via Skype and in-person visits, ate snacks, and generally had a great time. And then it was over, and we all moved on to other things.
That’s when the ennui-busting magic happened.
It seems that unbeknownst to me, a group of writing camp participants discovered a mutual love for the Pokemon card game while working on their small-group writing assignments, and since the library was where they first met, it was the logical place for them to meet up and play. I kept stumbling over the group once or twice a week playing on the floor of the teen area or at a table near the adult fiction section and noticing that a) the group was made up mostly of teens who hadn’t been regular library users before the writing camp, and b) the group was exponentially bigger every time I saw it.
One day, when checking in with them, I mentioned that if they were going to meet on a regular basis, I’d be happy to reserve a room for them every week. The group fell silent — so silent I thought I’d broken some sort of unspoken rule — and then a voice said “Seriously? You’d do that for Pokemon?” When I confirmed that yes, Pokemon was a legitimate use of library space, they jumped on the opportunity:
“Can we be a real club?” Yes.
“Can our club be in the library’s calendar?” Yes.
“Can we make posters?” Yes.
“Can we bring snacks?” Well, how about I provide the snacks?
And thus an amazing teen-led program was born — a program that is almost a year old and still going strong. Staff involvement is minimal and relegated to room reservations, snack procurement, and statistics-gathering. When attendance dipped several months ago, the group wrote recruitment announcements for the schools and the numbers climbed again. They’ve developed a texting system to remind each other about meetings, and several of the members have volunteered at the school-age version of the club that we had to start because the under-12s were so jealous of the teenagers.
Most of all, I’ve learned to keep my eyes and ears open for other opportunities like this. Teen-led doesn’t have to mean complicated. It doesn’t have to mean pleading with already over-scheduled teens to lead a program at the library. It can mean programs that grow organically out of other, seemingly unrelated programs. And it can be beautiful to watch.