Over the past several weeks I’ve been working on a few projects that have given me a chance to consider once again what we mean in libraries when we talk about youth participation. To be honest, over the past several years I’ve been pretty frustrated with teen youth participation in libraries. What I usually find is that most librarians focus on activities that are at the lowest levels of the ladder of particiption. In other words real teen participation is really pretty minimal.

Yesterday, I was able to hear part of a presentation from community agencies in New York City that manage to “do” real participation. (YMCA, Studio Museum Harlem, The Door) Unfortunately, I missed everything but the question and answer portion of the presentation, but what I did hear was truly inspiring, particularly from a youth participation perspective. Panelists mentioned the importance of:

  • Listening to what teens have to say
  • Not making assumptions
  • Not judging
  • Being who you really are – not trying to be cool when you are not
  • Talking with teens about sometimes difficult topics
  • Building relationships

This tied in with other thinking and work I’ve been doing. Recently, I’ve been reminded how important it is for librarians and teens to focus on project-based youth participation. Many teen librarians talk to me about how hard it is to keep teens coming to TAB/TAG meetings and how much work it takes on the librarians part to keep a TAB/TAG going. But, think about this. If the participation is project-based:

  • Each project has a beginning, middle, and end.
  • Different teens in the community work on different projects.
  • More teens will want to participate and be motivated because they are involved in a specific project that is of interest to them.
  • You have the chance of meeting the needs and bringing in more teens because of the short-term nature of the participation. (It’s not a life-time committment.

It’s likely that a higher level of participation is also possible when it comes to project-based youth participation. Teens have more opportunity to come up with projects that are meaningful to them, the library, and community. Some examples of project-based participation include:

  • Space planning – a group of teens who are interested in figuring how to work with the library’s space get together and plan and implement a rearrangement or renovation of the space.
  • Gaming – teens who are interested in gaming get together to talk about how to bring gaming into the library. They talk about policies, hardware and software, and plan programs.
  • Collection building – teens who are interested in different parts of the library collection get together to help determine what to add, and weed. A group of music loving teens might work on the music collection. A group of manga loving teens might work on the manga collection. Etc.

None of these projects has to be long-term. The group might get together for several weeks, disband, and then reconstitute themselves in some way at a later date. The group only lasts as long as the project on which they are working.

And, of course, don’t forget that teens involved in a particular project could meet virtually just as well as f2f.

It would be great to learn about librarians who are using a project-based approach to youth participation already. Anyone?

About Linda W Braun

Linda W Braun is a YALSA Past President, the YALSA CE Consultant, and a learning consultant/project management coordinator at LEO: Librarians & Educators Online.

5 Thoughts on “What is Youth Participation?

  1. Kelly [Member] on August 20, 2006 at 3:44 pm said:

    I’ve come to the conclusion several months ago that the model I’m using for the TAC is not working. The project-based participation seems to make more sense for all involved.

  2. Kelly [Member] on August 20, 2006 at 3:48 pm said:

    I also think the project-based participation model helps to involve those that represent the library users as a whole.

  3. Kelly [Member] on August 20, 2006 at 3:59 pm said:

    Sorry, I have another comment. My coworker, Jesse Vieau was working on our MySpace page yesterday, and teens were creating podcasts and graphics for the page. While they didn’t create the page initially, they are involved in adding content to the site.

  4. Nick [Member] on August 21, 2006 at 2:12 pm said:

    This post couldn’t have come at a better time for me. I’ve also been thinking and writing a lot about Youth Participation recently and will be discussing it with staff members at my library.

    I love the idea of “digital participation”, collaborating with teens to create a library MySpace account to which they can add content.

    I’ve also come to appreciate how important it is for the staff member or coach for a TAG must always be present and accessible to the teens. Earlier this year I had a very successful party organized by a TAG. I worked with them everyday and always set goals for the group. Other projects have gotten stalled as I’ve had to work at other locations and couldn’t be there to bring the group together. So now I’ll be coaching more stationary staff members on how to oversee these TAGs.

  5. Lisa YOUNGBLOOD [Member] on August 30, 2006 at 8:42 am said:

    Lisa Youngblood, TAG Committee Member

    I, too, have experienced the need to have project oriented youth participation. The teens are eager to perform project oriented tasks that have a beginning, a middle, and an end. The completion portion is so important for a feeling of accomplishment. I’ve been asked by other libraries why our teen volunteer and TAB programs are so successful, and my answer is that we allow the teens much participation in all levels of library service. I add that teens want to do something that to them has a tangible end. It’s always nice to have a concrete answer to the question “what do you do at the library.” The teens like to say that they’ve published a newsletter, made suggestions for the new library, and presented specific programs.

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