Cultivating Teen Programming at the Library

When someone wants to start their own garden, there are a lot of things they have to think about–location, climate, soil, and maintenance to name a few. It is important to know what kind of soil you are dealing with before you start cultivating the ground. Determining the quality of your soil allows you to utilize the ground to produce the best crop possible.

“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.”  -Audrey Hepburn

What does this have to do with having a teen presence and programming at the library? I have found the same principles and practices used in having a successful garden can be applied to cultivating a teen presence at your library.

I am the director of Bolivar-Hardeman County Library in Bolivar, Tennessee. We are a small and rural public library serving a diverse community. When I started nearly two years ago our teen attendance at our programs were at an all-time low—basically zero at our library. The demographic of our patrons is increasingly getting older. It was and is my passion to revitalize the library into a place where teens want to come. Shortly after I started, I became of a member of YALSA (Young Adult Library Service Association) and ARSL (Association for Rural and Small Libraries). You can become a member by going here for YALSA and here for ARSL. I was starting from ground zero on developing any type of teen programming at the library. YALSA and ARSL has and continues to provide invaluable information and resources regarding teens and young adults with little to no budgets. One example is the Future Ready with the Library grant I received to be a member of the second of cohort. Future Ready with the Library provides support for small, rural, and tribal library staff to build college and career readiness services for middle school youth. I highly encourage you to read more about Future Ready with the Library. The past several months I have been very busy with gathering information about my community, schools, and youth for the Future Ready with the Library project. Because of my recent research and community engagement it has given me a fresh perspective on Bolivar. One thing that stuck out like a sore thumb was the lack of teen involvement in the library.

Going back to the garden metaphor, the first thing that needed to be addressed was the location. The library seemed to be the obvious answer to this question, it was not until I started going into the schools and interacting with the kids did I learn I can bring programming and resources to them. Just like you can have multiple gardens in one area the library can extend beyond its walls. The important thing to keep in mind is where teens are already gathering. How can you come to where they’re at so they will meet you were you are at. We have to earn their trust.

The second thing that I observed is climate, and not the weather or temperature type, but the atmosphere, feeling, and ambiance of the location. If I was a teen, would I want to come hang out my library? Is there an inviting and welcoming place for me to go? Is the atmosphere cultivating a positive situation? Climate is important.

Like needing to know the type of soil in my garden, I needed to discover the types of teens I was working with. Every teen you will interact with will come from different families, socio-economic background, and ethnicities. Taking the time to learn about who the teens are will help determine the types of programs, activities, and outreaches that are needed.

Finally, maintenance is key. After doing all the hard work to educate yourself, prepare the soil and plant your seeds, you would not just let your garden go. The same principle applies to your teens. We have to maintain those relationships and continue to mold, adapt, and grow them if we want to see success in this area. There are some seasons that will not be as good as others, but we have to continue to work hard and not get discouraged.

About Bailee Hutchinson

Bailee is the Director at Bolivar-Hardeman County Library, a rural public library in Tennessee. A member of YALSA, ARSL, and TLA.
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