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.

What Summer Learning Looks Like in Action: Teen Programs that Inspire

What is Summer Learning? Surprise, you have been doing it without even knowing it! In recent years, there has been a move to transition Summer Reading into Summer Learning. Why? Because libraries have naturally transitioned into third spaces. We are advocates of combating the summer slide, which primarily affects disadvantaged youth, by providing hands-on activities and resources that support them. These materials can be in the form of books, audiovisuals, and e-media. Summer Learning appeals to every type of learner because it is all-inclusive. The teen that struggles with reading but enjoys the library and its atmosphere knows that they are just as welcome and intimidation is null as the avid reader. “Tickets” and “participation logs” reflect this change by adding additional ways to participate by including activities that teens and children can do in and outside of the library.

Those of us who work closely with youth are well informed about our summer program, but other departments in your library may not be. It is your job to educate staff so they can make the public aware of what Summer Learning activities you offer. Take the initiative by sending out an e-mail blast to your coworkers or ask to present at one of your staff meetings to make everyone aware of what Summer Learning is and what that looks like in your library. Emily Samos, Urban Libraries Council, presented her 5 Strategies to building a Summer Learning culture throughout your library as a part of the Making the Transition from Summer Reading to Summer Learning YALSA Webinar, November 2016.

1. Engage team members across the library.
2. Connect Summer Reading with other library services.
3. Start Planning in September [for next year].
4. Initiate and cultivate partnerships with schools, museums, and other partners.
5. Plan programs with clear learning goals.

What Does Summer Learning Look Like in Action?

Reading Public Library—Reading, PA
At the Reading Public Library, we transitioned to Summer@RPL to encompass all that we offer for children, teens, and adults throughout the summer. As that relates to teens particularly, our teen ticket has three activities that participants can complete, “Read,” “Participate in a Teen Program,” and “Volunteer/Do A Good Deed in Your Community.” We encourage them to try all three but note in the rules that they may do any combination. They earn level prizes, can put in for prize packs, and submit for the grand prize after completing all the levels. The “level up” approach keeps them engaged all summer long. Our programs are a combination of fun, entertaining, informative, and always engagingfrom special performances to daily STEAM programs, special guests, and workshops to prepare them for the year ahead and beyond. Performances include a Bollywood interactive performance during Family Night. Our STEAM programs include a Maker Event and weekly opportunities to participate in an engineering program with Snapology where children and teens will be guided through hands-on activities using things they already love: LEGO® bricks, K’Nex, and technology. SAT Prep will be taught by an instructor with more than 23 years of experience teaching the SATs. And our Job Training workshop will be instructed by the Department of Labor and Industry.

Teen Loft Lounge Area at Reading Public Library (Pennsylvania).

Boyertown Community Library—Boyertown, PA
At Boyertown Community Library, Lisa Rand has many cool programs in the works. She is starting a new series called, “Try It Out.” Barrio Alegria, a community development organization that utilizes art as a platform for change, will teach the teens Latin Dance Basics, with an evening salsa class and weekend bachata lesson. A Yoga instructor will lead three afternoon and evening sessions. These programs have flexible times in hopes of accommodating potential participants’ various schedules.

In the past, Lisa has held Ukulele Basics classes provided by a local music shop, Funky Frets. Teens attended three sessions, which gave them a solid base of learning that could be continued with paid lessons, practicing independently, or through the help of resources such as YouTube. “I received great feedback on this program. Teens were glad for a chance to try something new, free of charge. They could approach the learning opportunity as simply something fun to do, with very low commitment. However, meeting for three sessions gave enough of a taste that some teens discovered a new hobby to pursue,” Lisa said.

“When choosing programs for teens, two of the questions I ask myself are Will it be fun? and Would my teens have access elsewhere? We have a wonderful dance school in our neighborhood, but Latin dance is not a part of their curriculum. During the school year, our teens may not have access to Latin dance instruction. On the other hand, for those teens who already love Latin dance, this will be a chance to learn from a live instructor.”

“For the yoga class, I wanted to offer a format where someone could come once to try, or return another time if they enjoy the experience. This program is a way to provide tools for stress-management and wellness but in a low key, recreational setting. We are not a gym or a PE class, so trying a new physical activity here could be welcoming for patrons who might not try on their own.” She says.

Fleetwood Area Public Library—Fleetwood, PA
Stacy Lauks at Fleetwood Areas Public Library has a very cool program series in the works called Practice Makes Progress. “Summer is a great time to explore new things but…it is also important to practice your skills in subjects that you love in order to progress,” she says. Each week during Summer Exploration, patrons will have the opportunity to participate/submit work in a designated subject area such as an art sketchbook, community music recital & community music evaluation, graphic history organizer, community science fair project, or writing submissions. Each submission category includes a positive-based assessment from a member of the community that works in that particular field.

Fleetwood Area Library decided to focus on exploring new things because summer is a great time to “explore what you want when you want, how you want,” she says. “New things are exciting and great, but there are some things that students need to continue practicing during summer. Practice Makes Progress addresses this dichotomy, connects students/library to the community, and is still flexible enough that students can use their practice to explore their interests.”

To make their goal come to fruition, they picked subject areas and coordinated dates; got community members to donate their time to review submissions and plan programs; advertised with the school/private teachers; and are now waiting for the fun to begin. “Can’t wait to see what happens,” she says.

This is what Summer Learning looks like in action. Each of us has a different vision as evident by the examples provided. Nevertheless, we share common goals; we want our youth to excel in areas that we have noticed need developing or may spark an interest and have all found an approach to guide them. We believe in quality experiences for our teens that include using partnerships to our advantage by asking members of our community to give of their time and talents to provide our teens with hands-on experiences, supporting the resources that libraries offer.

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.

Peer to Peer Learning and Libraries: A Recipe for Success

Peer to Peer Learning is shared knowledge learning that is not done by an instructor or another person of authority. It is all about people on the same level teaching each other what they know. 

Peer to Peer learning is not a new concept and can date back to Aristotle’s use of archons, student leaders and as an organized theory by Andrew Bell in 1795. It was later implemented into French and English schools in the late 19th century. Over the last 30 to 40 years, it has been increasingly popular in K-12 public schools. (Saga Briggs, (2013) How Peer Teaching Improves Student Learning and 10 Ways to Encourage It, opencolleges.edu) In Trends in Peer Learning, Keith J. Topping reviews the development of peer to peer learning from 1981-2006. He states that,

“types and definitions of peer learning are explored, together with questions of implementation integrity and consequent effectiveness and cost‐effectiveness. Benefits to helpers are now emphasized at least as much as benefits to those helped. In this previously under-theorized area, an integrated theoretical model of peer learning is now available. Peer learning has been extended in types and forms, in curriculum areas and in contexts of application beyond school. Engagement in helping now often encompasses all community members, including those with special needs. Social and emotional gains now attract as much interest as cognitive gains.” (Keith J. Topping (2005) Trends in Peer Learning, Educational Psychology, 25:6, 631-645, DOI: 10.1080/01443410500345172

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Why Makerspaces Are So Important in Public Libraries

From large urban libraries to small rural ones, makerspaces are happening. Spaces like these are important because they give people of all ages the opportunity to gain knowledge on their own through hands-on exploration. The possibilities are endless and can range from being tech-based, such as 3D printing and multi-media, to art carts and building stations.

Libraries are Always Ahead of the Game:

In 2015, The Teen Tech Week theme Libraries are for Making highlighted the fact that indeed libraries have always been “centers for “making” and “creation” for as long as we have been having crafts, programs, and classes! Everyone seems to think that a makerspace needs to be high-tech and technology driven, but all it really needs to be is a program or space that enables and encourages teens to explore, create, and share.,” says Christie Gibrich, Senior Librarian at Grand Prairie Library System. (Young Adult Library Services, Volume 13, Number 2)

Our Art Cart

I work at the Reading Public Library, District Center in Reading, PA located in Berks County. We are fortunate to have a space dedicated to teens called the Teen Loft. In that space, teens have simple makerspace areas that I have created based on the interest of the teens and the resources many lack at home. One of those spaces is our Art Cart. We take for granted having access to simple things such as crayons, markers, paper, scissors, and glue. Our building makerspace consists of K’Nex, Legos, Moon Sand, and more. We also have a monthly themed makerspace challenge to keep things interesting such as our Granny Square project and decorating bookends that we featured for Teen Read Week this year. In many circumstances, these are luxuries for our patrons because their parents and guardians cannot afford them. They look to us for a space to relax and socialize with their peers. Programs are great and fortunately, we can provide them daily, but there is something about being able to have the time to explore on your own terms. Makerspaces provide that opportunity and support resources in our collection.

How Do I Start a Makerspace?

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Back to the Basics: Why Getting Teens Writing is Important

The Reading Public Library, Teen Loft located in Reading, PA provided three three-hour writing workshops this summer facilitated by professionals funded by the YALSA/Dollar General Summer Learning Grant.

  • Ekphrastic Poetry: Motivos, a bilingual print magazine run by founder/publisher and former ALA National presenter Jenee Chizick-Aguero, provided a workshop on ekphrastic poetry. Teens used the elements around them and drew inspiration from things that were familiar to them such as music, movies, and artwork to find their creative voice. Jenee also encouraged them to submit their writing to her magazine for publication. She also shared resources her magazine provided such as scholarship information. The RPL also subscribes to her magazine so that they are available at all times.

  • Short Story Writing: Young Adult author of Immaculate and Transcendent Katelyn Detweiler began with a discussion about how she got into writing, the challenges she faces and working for a publishing company in New York which gave teens insight into how a book is created from start to finish. Teens were then given prompts to help get them started.
  • Comic Book Panels: Author and artist Jean Esther taught teens how to make their own comic book and the challenges he faced when creating his own. He also spoke about his journey as an artist. The workshop started off with basic drawing tips and tricks they could use to bring their drawings to the next level. After they created their main characters, they were ready to work on their storylines and share their work.

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