Lately, there has been a big push to give teens agency, a voice, and opportunities for action through our library services. The theme of last year’s YALSA Symposium was “Empowering Teens,” and YALSA’s Teen Programming Guidelines devote an entire section (number 3.0) to the imperative to “Facilitate teen-led programs.”
The most traditional way to do this is through a Teen Advisory Board. But as a Middle School Services Librarian, I had my doubts about handing any real responsibility over to a bunch of 11-to-14-year-olds. So it was with some trepidation that I took on an advisory board for middle schoolers, which we call Library Squad.
Library Squad has blossomed into a tight-knit community of library-loving middle schoolers whose opinions, ideas, and help form the foundation of all my programming. Library Squad meets on the second Wednesday of every month from 5-6 p.m., but its members are a significant presence in almost all programs.
What do you expect to happen when you shut 25 teens in a room for an entire rainy Saturday? I wasn’t sure when I arrived at Skokie Public Library at 9:00am on May 30 for their first ever Community Appathon, even though I’d attended several planning meetings. The event was inspired by the National Day of Civic Hacking and spurred into being by a library patron (Maker Mom Kim Moldofsky) and her teenage son. A skilled coder, he’d attended an adult-oriented hackathon and found that a 36-hour event doesn’t mix well with curfew. The goal of the appathon was to gather teens interested in developing, designing, and civic service to prototype apps to meet the community’s needs.
The event ran from 9:00am to (slightly after) 6:00pm. We began the day with a State of Skokie talk that addressed many of the issues highlighted at a recent series of town hall meetings, followed by a brainstorming session to develop ideas to address those issues. Highlighted issues include safety, connectivity, diversity, environmental sustainability, the difficulty in finding information about local events, the need for an image makeover, and a need to be more pedestrian friendly. The teens then broke out into teams of five to create their apps. Three library staff and Kim acted as facilitators throughout the day: keeping everyone on schedule, serving food (bagels, fruit, pizza, popcorn and cookies), and offering assistance as needed. At the end of the day, each team presented their app to the whole group. All the teens (plus a last-minute group of teen volunteers) voted on the best one.
The MacArthur Foundation released a national survey about teens who play computer, console, or cell phone games. The survey uncovered that there is a significant amount of social interaction and potential for civic engagement for game players. The survey was conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life Project and Mills College. Continue reading