Flops, Duds, and Bloopers – When Programming Isn’t Perfect

I tell myself all the time that the success of a teen program is more than “just” attendance. I know I’m not alone in that. A YALSA committee has even created a living document – Teen Programming Guidelines – that includes a section on evaluation and measurement. But still, it doesn’t take the sting out of a near-empty room, or eliminate the dread of explaining to your supervisor that your teen programming budget should remain static (dare we say increased?), regardless of attendance stats, in the continuing saga of library budget freezes and cuts.

Many colleagues have lamented the lack of attendance at a program for which they had such high hopes – the teens ASKED for it, or HELPED plan it, or it DREW double-digit attendance at another library, or was ALL OVER the listservs to which we subscribe. Sure, we tell ourselves and coworkers that “at least the kids that came had a good time,” but in that same moment we’re also thinking “what did I do wrong?” or the more self-defeating “maybe I should just be a reference librarian, they don’t have to deal with this kind of rejection” (apologies to my reference/adult services friends & colleagues – you know I love you and the work you do!).

If you take only one thing from this post, it must be this: we’re all programming rock stars. I believe it, and occasionally have to say it out loud to convince myself, but it’s true. If you’ve been in teen services for more than three years, you know the unspoken secret of our demographic – it changes, seemingly overnight! Sometimes, sooner than a pop star’s shimmer fades. Older teens graduate or are lost to the extracurriculars they need for their college apps; you might see them for volunteer hours, always in demand but in short supply. And yesterday’s tweens are today’s teens. Add in the constant evolution of technology and pop culture, especially the advent of YouTube celebs (seriously, there’s a whole con devoted to them!), and you’ve got the jist of the revolving stage upon which we play. A program you did last year for mostly seventh & eighth graders just won’t fly for the same group this year, but that gaming lock-in you did five years ago with the high-schoolers, tweaked ever so slightly, will. We’re like Madonna – continually reinventing our programs. Or maybe I should say Beyonce? Yeah, make it Beyonce. Madonna makes me sound old.

We need to break this cycle of self-doubt and shed light on the “real” problem: we don’t talk about our “flops” at all, and we really should! Our ideas are as fabulous as we are, but just might not be right for our current crop of teens. Comment here to share your story. Let’s create a blooper reel and share those “big” ideas that never really worked with our kids. They might work for someone else, or they might not. It never hurts to share. Also, please help us make Teen Read Week materials and resources better for you by completing the YALSA survey https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/trw15
Carolyn Aversano is the Teen Services Librarian at The Ocean County (NJ) Library, Jackson Branch.

Back to Afterschool: Why Informal Learning Afterschool

Do you have a maker space?

Do you provide STEM-based programs?

Do you work with community partners?

Do you have afterschool programs and services?

If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, I have another question for you, “why?”

nina matthews photography why imageThe reason I ask is that a lot of times I hear library staff working for and with teens talk about the great programs they sponsor and develop with teens – robot making and coding and creative writing – but I don’t hear much about the why. And, it’s that why that is most important. I know it might not seem like it, but it is. Why? Because it’s the why that helps make sure that the programs are going to help teens grow up to be successful academically and in their personal lives. Because it’s the why that is what funders and elected officials and community members are going to want to know in order to decide if your program is worth funding or supporting in another way.
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Thinking (out loud) about learning in makerspaces

I recently made an expedition to SXSWedu in Austin. I was really excited about this conference because I thought it’d be useful to me as an educator/facilitator/enabler of science and technology-based programs and projects at my library. I was looking forward to hearing new-to-me perspectives on student (or in my case teen)-centered learning; maybe I’d pick up some tips on how to help teens feel comfortable expressing their interests or how to frame  a challenging project in a manageable way or chunk it into achievable pieces. What I most hoped to do, I think, was speak with other educators about the unique challenges and opportunities of learning in a makerspace-type environment. It was a valuable experience in many ways, but not quite what I expected. (The usual caveats apply – YMMV, perhaps I picked the wrong sessions, didn’t find the right folks to network with, etc.)

As I left SXSWedu and headed for home, I reflected a bit on my experience. I was disappointed, because I had hoped to connect with experts – people who knew more than me about what I was doing. I didn’t. At a panel where I expected higher-level conversation about makerspaces and learning, I left frustrated that the conversation was ‘what is a makerspace?’ and ‘low-budget vs high-budget’ and ‘you don’t NEED a 3d printer’ instead of ‘this is what makes a makerspace special, and this is how to maximize that opportunity.’ I wanted nuts and bolts and a user’s manual, and I got Tinker Toys. As I thought more and more about what had happened, it occurred to me that if I wanted to talk about this, I ought to just start the conversation I wanted to hear. To that end, here are the questions on my mind right now, and some of my possible answers.

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What Your Manager Wishes You Knew – Part 5

Do you sometimes wonder what you could do to get more administrative support for teen services in your library? There are some relatively simple steps you can take to win friends and influence managers! This is a six-part series that shares some tips from managers that you can integrate into your work life and maybe make some positive changes in your library.

In the first four weeks, I talked about’ presenting yourself as a professional, speaking the language, collecting data, and about sharing information up the ladder.’ This week let’s move ahead to:

Taking a Big-Picture Look

You may think that it is obvious that changes are needed in your library. It may be crystal clear to you that teen services needs a bigger materials budget, more staff, and a higher profile. But somehow, your library’s upper-level management is not seeing the same thing you are. Now what?
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What Your Manager Wishes You Knew – Part 3

Do you sometimes wonder what you could do to get more administrative support for teen services in your library? There are some relatively simple steps you can take to win friends and influence managers! This is a six-part series that shares some tips from managers that you can integrate into your work life and maybe make some positive changes in your library.

In the first two weeks, I talked about presenting yourself as a professional and about speaking the language. This week I’m going to get even more practical and talk about:

Collecting Data

As I noted last week, teen librarians can sometimes get too focused on the teen point of view: we think it should be obvious that teens need our services, collections, and programs, because they’re important for the teens. But your manager needs to know more than that. Your manager needs to know the value of the services, programs, and collections that the library is providing, and whether the money allocated to teen services is well spent. Continue reading

Taskforces Galore!!!

Wanna get involved in YALSA right now? YALSA needs your help! We’re looking for expert programmers, Teen Read Week gurus, Teen Tech Week geniuses, Road Trip afficionados, Common Core Standards experts and more!

Based on Board decisions at the 2013 Midwinter Conference, I’ll be making appointments to the following Super! Awesome! Taskforces! All you have to do is complete the volunteer form.
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Connect, Create, Collaborate: Teens, Work Skills, Opportunities and Outcomes

image from Flickr user Fort Meade of teens working together at a computerI’ve written in the past on the YALSAblog about the programs we provide in my library that help teens to grow up successfully. The recently published Kids Count data book re-affirmed for me the importance of what we are doing at my library and the positive impact our work has on teens.

The Kids Count data points to some opportunities for libraries to help teens succeed. For example, data shows there is lack of job skills for those aged 16-24. This makes me think that one thing the library can do is to provide robust opportunities, such as a strong volunteer program, so that teens can gain and sharpen these skills.

What can you do in a volunteer program to help teens gain the necessary skills?
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Dollars & Sense #25: Teen Services = Good Investment

Yesterday Beth Gallaway wrote about Return on Investment (ROI) and how to make sure to get a good bang for your buck. Beth’s specific focus was on how gaming provides great opportunities to demonstrate ROI.

Continuing on the theme of ROI, how do you:

  • Make sure that administrators, community members, foundations, grant makers, etc. understand the value of all aspects of the job that you do?
  • Demonstrate that the full scope of services for teens is an invaluable part of what the library offers?
  • Guarantee that those who have the bucks will make sure that you have dollars that you need when you need them?

In order to prove that the money spent in teen services is a good investment, it’s important to have data and stories that you can present to others. How do you do that? Focus groups, circulation statistics, door counts, and surveys are traditional methods libraries use. But, in the web 2.0/social networking world, there are several other techniques to employ in order to find out what other’s have to say about your services and their value: Continue reading