Flops, Duds, and Bloopers – When Programming Isn’t Perfect

I tell myself all the time that the success of a teen program is more than “just” attendance. I know I’m not alone in that. A YALSA committee has even created a living document – Teen Programming Guidelines – that includes a section on evaluation and measurement. But still, it doesn’t take the sting out of a near-empty room, or eliminate the dread of explaining to your supervisor that your teen programming budget should remain static (dare we say increased?), regardless of attendance stats, in the continuing saga of library budget freezes and cuts.

Many colleagues have lamented the lack of attendance at a program for which they had such high hopes – the teens ASKED for it, or HELPED plan it, or it DREW double-digit attendance at another library, or was ALL OVER the listservs to which we subscribe. Sure, we tell ourselves and coworkers that “at least the kids that came had a good time,” but in that same moment we’re also thinking “what did I do wrong?” or the more self-defeating “maybe I should just be a reference librarian, they don’t have to deal with this kind of rejection” (apologies to my reference/adult services friends & colleagues – you know I love you and the work you do!).

If you take only one thing from this post, it must be this: we’re all programming rock stars. I believe it, and occasionally have to say it out loud to convince myself, but it’s true. If you’ve been in teen services for more than three years, you know the unspoken secret of our demographic – it changes, seemingly overnight! Sometimes, sooner than a pop star’s shimmer fades. Older teens graduate or are lost to the extracurriculars they need for their college apps; you might see them for volunteer hours, always in demand but in short supply. And yesterday’s tweens are today’s teens. Add in the constant evolution of technology and pop culture, especially the advent of YouTube celebs (seriously, there’s a whole con devoted to them!), and you’ve got the jist of the revolving stage upon which we play. A program you did last year for mostly seventh & eighth graders just won’t fly for the same group this year, but that gaming lock-in you did five years ago with the high-schoolers, tweaked ever so slightly, will. We’re like Madonna – continually reinventing our programs. Or maybe I should say Beyonce? Yeah, make it Beyonce. Madonna makes me sound old.

We need to break this cycle of self-doubt and shed light on the “real” problem: we don’t talk about our “flops” at all, and we really should! Our ideas are as fabulous as we are, but just might not be right for our current crop of teens. Comment here to share your story. Let’s create a blooper reel and share those “big” ideas that never really worked with our kids. They might work for someone else, or they might not. It never hurts to share. Also, please help us make Teen Read Week materials and resources better for you by completing the YALSA survey https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/trw15
Carolyn Aversano is the Teen Services Librarian at The Ocean County (NJ) Library, Jackson Branch.

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5 Comments

  1. The whole month of October is the worst and TRW is right in the middle of it. We’ve decided to no longer do any programming in October.

  2. This was my first year doing SRP and I really wanted to do some programs for teens. A planned a different activity each Monday and dubbed it Monday Mayhem. Some of the activities that I thought would be pretty well attended, such as candy sushi and bleach pen t-shirts, really weren’t. Others had a pretty good number in attendance (after hours tag in the library). Overall, the whole thing just didn’t take off like I’d hoped it would. Still, hope springs eternal. Even though they weren’t attending programs, I did have a larger number participate in SRP, so that’s a plus!

  3. I really like to expose my teens and tweens to new and interesting things, but this past year all they are interested in is either 1) just hanging out 2) Minecraft or 3) anime/manga/Yu-Gi_Oh/etc. After many evenings letting children come in and do the planned teen craft or activity just so I would have something to do and not waste the supplies, I changed things up. I just do Minecraft every Monday, Otaku Club two Wednesdays per month and have a hang out session two Wednesdays a month. At the hang out program I put out board games, bring out the Wii if they request it, or have a craft, and then let them do whatever they want. We don’t have a dedicated teen space in my small branch so this gets the teens out of the main portion of the library and into a space where they don’t have to necessarily watch their volume and if the occasional foul word slips out I don’t come down as hard on them. This model has been really successful and they are so invested they do most of the work and I just have to be in the room to “supervise”.

  4. My two big programs this fall were candy sushi and hunger games trivia. Candy sushi was a bust. I had one teen and his mom show up and participate, but many others said it sounded gross or they just didn’t come. The hunger games trivia was right before the last movie released, and my teens have been begging for more trivia (last trivia event had 6 teens, which is actually pretty good for my tiny library), but nobody came after saying how excited they were. So in the case of candy sushi, it just wasn’t something they were interested in, but for trivia I have no idea why they didn’t come. I hate asking them all the time because I don’t want to bug them, but the few I did ask said they forgot, even though I talked to them the week of the program to remind them.

  5. I tried planning structured Teen Time programs like a book club and modifying clothing. The first meeting of book club, only two people showed up, and only one of them had read the book. For my ambitious sewing workshop, I discovered that most teens didn’t know the basics, like threading a needle and sewing on a button. I quickly gave up on elaborate planning, and we ended up with a rotating slate of activities: board games, Wii, crafts, and got good attendance. What I learned:
    1) Timing is the most important thing–pick a consistent time, offer simple activities, and let it grow and evolve from there.
    2) Publicize using word-of-mouth, and personally invite kids to come in when the activity is happening
    3) The most important outcome: building relationships with the young people.

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