When I started working at a multi-branch system, my whole world turned upside down; I came from the craziness of a single library system with a large teen population to a smaller branch with a tiny teen population. Although this has thrown me for a bit of loop, I decided that in order to stay in touch with teens, and not let my years of experience lay by the way side, I will work more closely with my colleagues who do serve a large teen population. In other words I’d outsource myself.
What I mean by “outsourcing” is literally working more closely with colleagues to provide and implement new programs and services. Through these interactions, I have been able to step out of my home library branch and visit other branches to present, and implement, new programs and services. Although I still need to build up teen programming, at my main branch, I sincerely believe that we should not let an obvious factors like location, or lack of a teen audience, keep our ideas from getting to our colleagues and teens all over the city. In fact, for this summer, I was able to get two of my colleagues excited about a no sew blanket program; this singular program will be at three branches instead of one! Furthermore, the best thing about working with your colleagues is that they are just a phone call, or e-mail away, and are willing to try new things, and/or help us out in any way they can. More importantly, by co-hosting programs at different branches, we have access to information that will help us gauge the interests of the entire teen community.
Through these exclusive opportunities, we can not only get suggestions from actual teens, we can also get very valuable feedback, which could easily change the way we evaluate our programs and services. Either way, this is definitely a win-win situation for all of us since we can take this valuable information back to our branches and plan programs and services that will get teens into our buildings. By establishing a stronger connection between ourselves and our colleagues, we have a much better chance of finding out what teens are really looking for at our libraries and in our city. Not to mention, this partnership will allow us to get know our colleagues interests and talents, which is very advantageous and re-assuring because we know there are other people in our systems who are just as passionate as we are about serving teens.
Along with co- planning, and co-hosting programs with our colleagues, I want to continue the dialogue about taking the extra step in getting to know our teens. Although we may try every social media outlet we know and make a million flyers, we need to remember that if we want to know what teens want, we have to go into our communities and find out from the source itself. Again, we have our standard outreach programs and resources, but we need to keep trying other methods of connecting with teens. For example, if schools are having a volunteer fairs, we can pick up the phone and ask if we can set-up a booth. Another example: if we know teens are flooding the local coffee shop to study, why not drop off flyers there or maybe host a passive program at the venue. The sky is the limit with ideas so try one and run with it. However, don’t forget about the obvious factors, which are working with teachers and school administrators to get the word out that the library does offer teens programs and services. I know it can be a pain communicating with teachers and administrators, but persistence really pays off. Whether we invade the local high schools, create Teen Advisory Boards, visit other branch libraries, or hang out at Teen Centers, the best way to find out what teens want is to ask! This is the best data we could ever ask for so let’s run with it and work together to make it known that teens have a place in public libraries and, more importantly, that they have people in their corner who truly care about their interests and well-being.
Now that we have an idea of what teens want, and have a team of people who are willing to help makes these ideas a reality, the next part is to enjoy ourselves. Despite the countless amounts of hours we put into implementing programs, the real payoff is to see teens enjoy themselves and actually say they want to come back for the next program. More importantly, it’s imperative that we show our teens that we really enjoy these programs so get involved with them! Whether it’s an art project, a fitness program, or a presentation, become part of the program as well. One program that I had the most fun with was our Silent Library program, which involved a lot of prep and organization; I was literally exhausted, but, when I saw what these teens had to go through, my sides hurt from laughing so much, which made them laugh even more because I was in pain from laughing. Planning, and implementing programs, is only is a step towards having fun; the real fun is watching, and interacting, with our teens so dream big, don’t be afraid to ask for help, and enjoy!