One of my favorite sections of the Teen Programming Guidelines (is it nerdy to have favorite sections?) is “Align programs with community and library priorities.” But you have to be deeply involved with community agencies and activities in order to be ready to act on the community’s priorities as they arise. This sounds obvious (and it is!), but it’s taken me a few years to figure it out.
Several years back my coworker and I began working with the Seattle Youth Employment Program (SYEP). SYEP is a city agency that places youth with barriers in paid internships in a variety of environments in city government and the private sector. It also provides them with job training and academic support. We worked with SYEP staff to design a curriculum that would build the interns’ digital and information literacy skills. We were sometimes surprised by the needs identified by SYEP staff and the interns’ employers: touch typing, for example, and basic MS Word. We learned a lot about putting our own assumptions aside.
Over the years, we continually evaluated and adjusted the program. We dropped some pieces and added others to make it as relevant as possible to the youth’s needs and the needs of their employers.
This year, Seattle’s mayor put forth a huge Youth Employment Initiative in which he asked SYEP to more than double the number of youth placed in jobs over the summer. Suddenly, the community had spoken: youth employment was a major need. Because we already had an ongoing relationship with SYEP, the library was poised to expand the partnership to serve more youth with our trainings. We also helped in other ways, like providing meeting rooms for SYEP staff trainings. Next summer, the mayor intends to make the program five times larger than it is this year (eep!), which will present a huge opportunity for library involvement.
Of course, being in the right place at the time is always partly a matter of luck. But you can’t be lucky if you’re not out there.
Back in October 2014, I wrote about a report entitled: “America After 3 PM.” The Afterschool Alliance was writing about how students spend their time after school. In it, I raised the point of libraries as hubs for after-school activities, a free spot for teens to come if they don’t have the resources or access to other after-school programs. At the end of January, Alia Wong from Atlantic wrote an article called “The Activity Gap,” which discusses the access issues students from various socio-economic classes face with participating in after-school and extracurricular programs.
Wong begins the article by comparing two different students, Ethan and Nicole, whose family backgrounds contribute to two different lifestyles and life paths. While their names have been changed, these two students do exist and were case studies in a study published in Voices of Urban Education. This national study was conducted by Brown University’s Annenberg Institute of School Reform.
To Err is Human. It is also human to look for a scape goat, make excuses and wrap denial around ourselves like a cloak of invisibility. Alina Tugend, author of Better by Mistake, summarizes the process in her book. However, I think we can all recognize the steps we take to distance ourselves from mistakes.’ For exampleâ€¦
In December, I had a holiday party for our library’s anime club. The teens had been asking me for an anime trivia game, and I kept putting it off because I thought it would suck.’ I figured that I would do trivia at the Holiday Party. It would be like a special treat. I was delusional.’ I spent days coming up with trivia questions. I sat in my living room watching anime taking notes. I consulted the listserves. I read and reread fan sites and Wikipedia. I took online anime trivia tests. I drove myself mad writing questions.’ I stood in front of them with my list of questions, and they answered me with blank stares. There were 14 kids. They got 1/10 questions I wrote down. My more outspoken teens gave it to me straight. â€œThose series are old, I don’t know what you are talking about.â€ I kept my head on right. I started making up new questions on the spot, but I also started making excuses. Internally I was passing blame to the teens. â€œThey should have told me what series they wanted me to draw fromâ€ and â€œI’m not a thirteen year old girl, I’ve never read Chibi vampire.â€
Coming up with ideas for programs can be a daunting task, especially to a new teen programmer. Coming up with cheap programs is even harder. I’m going to share some tips on how to accomplish effective and inexpensive teen programs.
The main thing that will help you out with programming is to know your resources. One of your most valuable resources is your children’s librarian- they are notorious hoarders. If you have an idea but don’t know how to convince your manager to pay for the supplies, check with your children’s librarian. She will happy to share those toilet paper rolls she has been storing for the past ten years “just in case.” She will also have great suggestions on how to make your program more successful. If you don’t have an idea for a program, look through her stash- you might find some great treasures there.
If you are having a hard time coming up with ideas for programs, go online and check out what other libraries are doing. You’ll be able to find something you think has potential and adapt using the things you already have available to you. There are also some really great websites for cheap crafts. You may have to think creatively to figure out how to adapt things to work with what you already have or to make it appropriate for you audience.
Another thing that can make it easier to do cheap teen programs is to pick a theme and stick with it for a month or a quarter or whatever time period you like. Summer Reading is always so great for programs because we are given a theme and it is so easy to come up with program ideas based on a theme.
Another great resource is to use your co-workers, friends and family. If you need supplies for a program, put an email out asking for help. I have about 20 soda bottles and empty chip bags because I needed them for programs this summer and sent an email to my co-workers. People are glad to help out.
You can also check with your community to see who is willing to come and do free programs. I have had NASA come and do a program. I have also worked with local universities to have them come and do workshops on gaming and science. I have had the police department and fire department come do demonstrations geared towards teens. One time the bomb squad came out with a robot they use to check out bombs- it was very cool. I have had local authors come and do programs for free. You might be surprised how many people are willing to help out the library for free. And it never hurts to ask- the worse that can happen is that you’ll be told no, leaving you in the same place you are now.
But, your most important resource is yourself. In August I did a middle school program with a caveman theme. One of my co-workers came up with idea to make pet rocks. The kids LOVED it. The reason they loved it is because my co-worker and I had so much fun with it. We were cracking jokes about how our rocks had different personalities and how expensive it was going to be to feed them and made other stupid commentary about the rocks. All of the kids created two or three “pets” using markers to make faces on the rocks.
This just goes to show that you don’t have to have $100 worth of supplies to have a successful program. You just have to use the resources you have, be creative and a good attitude and you’ll be golden.