Many librarians spend a lot of time plotting and scheming ways to get teens in the door. It is sort of a “develop the programs and they will come” mentality. That is nice, but let’s be honest. What we really dream is having our teen spaces be hangout places; spaces teens feel comfortable spending free time. The main way to make this dream a reality is to build a sense of community within your teen department. There are several ways to jump-start the process:
1. Create a Welcoming Space
The first step is to create a place in which teens will want to gather. Often, our library buildings are older and were not created with specific teen spaces in mind, so spaces have been carved out of nooks, corners, and crannies. If you have a teen specific space, Hooray! It should be easy to make your department teen friendly. If not, here are two tips to help make your space appealing to teens: Make sure teens can be a little loud, without disturbing other patrons and make sure teens have a feeling of privacy. Notice I said Feeling of privacy, not complete privacy. While teens need to feel comfortable enough to relax, it is probably unwise to give them a closed off corridor far away from any adult eyes.
2. Build on Existing Communities
The simplest and quickest way to develop community is to build onto an existing community! Several YA authors and books have sparked interest groups that have developed into powerhouse communities. Though there are many such communities, two in particular are Nerdfighteria and the Harry Potter Alliance. Nerdfighteria sprung up around the YouTube vlog of John Green (2006 recipient of the Michael L. Printz Award and author of Looking for Alaska and other best-selling titles) and his brother Hank Green. Nerdfighters are people who try to decrease “world suck” and increase awesome. The Harry Potter Alliance mission statement says they take “an outside-of-the-box approach to civic engagement by using parallels from the Harry Potter books to educate and mobilize young people across the world toward issues of literacy, equality, and human rights.” You can let teens know the library has meeting space available for their group, or, depending on your libraries policies, your TAG could recruit other teens to help start a chapter of HPA or other group.
3. Use your Teen Advisory Group
Another way to build a sense of community is to use your Teen Advisory Group. Of course, you should meet to develop programs and plans for world domination, but you can also meet just to hang out. Get your teens to bring a friend to a meeting. When the newcomers see how much fun everyone is having, they will want to be a part of the group too!
4. Create a Common Goal
Whether it is a reading challenge, a fundraising activity, an outreach plan, or even a fitness challenge, having a common goal is a great way to create a sense of belonging.
5. Give them a Voice and Listen
All of your planning and hard work will be for naught if the teens in your community don’t feel like they are being heard.
If you have tried everything and you still can’t Pay teens to linger in your fabulously designed department, Don’t Give Up! Keep trying different ideas to see what resonates with the teens in your area. My hope is that by creating a sense of community among the teens in our libraries, we will create a greater community for our cities and towns.
As always, I would love to hear what You are doing in your library. What things have worked for you? What has failed miserably, but you think would work for someone else?