Get In Where You Fit In: Engaging Busy Teens @ Your Library

We all know that today’s teens are busy with the demands of school, employment, and extracurricular activities. This does not mean they devalue the library and its offerings. Just because they do not have time for extensive programs does not mean they do not have time for the library. It means we need to take a step back and evaluate how we can still fit into their lives.

“Teens are good for libraries because many of them have grown accustomed to outstanding library services as children. In libraries with a children’s department, kids are used to being served by specially trained services and special programming, in a unique,’child-friendly’ section of the facility. We know that teens will soon enough become the parents, voters, school board, and library board members who will, among other things, make important decisions that help decide the fate of our libraries.” (Honnold,2003,p.xv)

Libraries are made up of caring staff members that have the interests and needs of their patrons at heart. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to meet with such people at a county-wide youth service meeting that meets frequently throughout the year. At these meetings, we are able to share ideas, challenges, and passion projects that benefit our community as well as get support from our District Library Youth Services Consultant.

Try Some of Our Ideas…

  1. Take-Home Packets: At the Sinking Spring Public Library, Christine Weida—Children and Teens’ Librarian—engages both tweens and teens by creating STEM take-home packets. They contain a brief intro to the subject, an article or link to more information, an item, and an experiment. Her packet for April is Whoopee. In the past, she has focused on lenticular images, coding, math magic tricks, and magic eyes.  “The parents love to take these home to try and the kids get really excited too when they see them. I give them hints but don’t tell them what exactly is inside. I always learn a lot when I make them as well, so I enjoy that aspect. I try to choose things that aren’t mainstream,” she says.
  2. Makerspaces: Makerspaces are important for self-exploration. In my YALSA blog post on the subject, you will find detailed information and ideas on how to start your own. (Why Makerspaces Are So Important in Public Libraries—November 2018)
  3. Interactive Displays and Games: Having supplies available for free play and social engagement can make the teen section of your library feel personable and welcoming. At the Mifflin Public Library, Youth Services Librarian Andrea Hunter has a magnetic poetry board, card games, and an interactive bulletin board where she posts a monthly prompt. “So far we have done thing such as New Year’s Resolutions, and Which Hogwarts House Are You [From].”
  4. Drop-In Craft Activities: At the Reading Public Library Teen Loft, every Friday we have drop-in crafts where teens can show up during an allotted time period to create.  We choose things that do not need a staff member to facilitate. Instead, we introduce the project of the day and leave the participants to socialize with each other and make. This is a great way to use materials from past programs so that nothing goes to waste.

    Instructions for a craft using popsicle sticks is pictured next to craft materials.

  5. Flexible Programs: Having a few programs on your schedule that are flexible—such as Drop-In Crafts—is necessary. Busy teens need to know they will not be an interruption if they cannot come at the start of a program and that they are still welcome to participate.
  6. Use Pop-Culture to Your Advantage: Think of all the books you have on the shelves that have now been turned into movies or shows. I like to create “Read It Before You See It” displays to encourage patrons to read.  Many times they are unaware that their favorite movies and shows are derived from books.
  7. Online Programs using Social Media: Go where your busy teens are—online. Find the social media platform your teens use the most. You can interact with them by posting the same questions you may have on your bulletin boards. Tell them about books that were turned into movies or shows that they can checkout from your e-book sites. Talk about upcoming programs in-house and create virtual ones. Take pictures and show them what they are missing at your library. The possibilities are endless.

    Hands are pictured, with hashtags written on them. One says "Power in numbers #sisterhood."

  8. School Connections: This is not always the easiest thing for Youth Service staff in public libraries. It can be a true challenge to find an advocate in your local school, whether it be the school librarian or school counselors. But it is worth it. Each month, I send calendars with a cover letter highlighting some of the programs. Frequently, the teens will tell me they got a calendar at school and that is why they came to a program.

Programs such as these can be a win-win for both patrons and staff. Some benefits are that less staff is required, there is time flexibility for both patrons and staff, the library is promoting self-exploration, the programs attract both regular patrons and newbies, and if the program did not generate the participation you anticipated, you did not spend a lot of time prepping.

Over the years I have found that you need to find your library’s “programming patterns.” This can help you determine where and when to spend more time on extensive programs versus passive programs. I do my most extensive programs during the summer because I know teens will have free time and will be looking for things to do. In fall, there is still some buzz and the weather is still nice enough for them to attend scheduled events. During winter, I try to reuse leftover materials and engage my busy teens the best way possible by using these ideas.

A white t-shirt is being decorated with iron-on letters and patches.

Remember your teens. Just because they are busy does not mean that they do not need our services or that they have forgotten about us. I always love to have conversations with patrons I have not seen in a while. We catch up, talk about exciting things that are happening in their lives, and I let them know what is new at the library. Many of the conversations start with phrases such as, “I am so happy I’m here. I was just so busy,” or “I’ve wanted to stop by so many times, but I’ve been so busy.” We are still on their minds.  We are a place that will continue to be near and dear to their hearts. We just need to get in where we fit in.

About Ashly Roman

Hi, I'm Ashly. I've been the Teen Loft Supervisor for 14 of 16 of my years at the Reading Public Library located in Reading, PA. I love working with teens and am glad that I am in a position where I can make a difference in their life no matter how big or small.
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