Do you know if you work in one of the nineteen states that allow 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections and caucuses if they will be 18 by election day? Might be something to consider if you’re thinking about getting teens more civically involved with 65 days left until the next Presidential election. Even if you’re not one of the nineteen, it’s still a great opportunity to engage teens. If they’re not old enough to vote themselves, they can always encourage their parents or caregivers to vote.

I do admit, the election is a bit on my mind now in ways that it might not be for others. The city in which I work, in fact the block my branch is on and well, frankly the library building itself is playing a role in the upcoming Democratic National Convention. My library building is hosting The Daily Show and a block away is where the current President of the United States will give his acceptance speech.

In both Charlotte, NC where the DNC is being held and Tampa, FL where the Republican National Convention was held, teens and youth organizations are taking so many opportunities to be involved and let their voices be heard in this political landscape. Youth Radio, for example, takes a closer look at Paul Ryan as a Generation X’er on the ticket. Even if your city is not hosting a convention this year, there’s a lot that can be done to encourage teens as advocates in the political arena. Here are a few examples of what we’ve done and that might work or have worked for you:

Encourage civic literacy through developing reading lists. While this might sound like a very traditional response from a library, it’s still important. In my experience we carefully developed several lists that included a variety of political beliefs and shared them with local youth serving organizations such as Generation Nation, to help promote the library and literacy.

Encourage civic engagement through content creation. This summer, Jimmeka Anderson, a co-worker of mine, and I, developed the Teen Fashion apprentice program. Teens attended workshops to build skills around designing and upcycling clothing, entered an outfit they made into a fashion show, and then apprenticed with our partner organization, The Children’s Theatre of Charlotte. How this relates to being civically engaged? Aside from fine tuning their job development skills, hearing their stories of the thought process that went behind designing their outfits to fit the theme, would have you convinced that yes, clothes are political too. They represent everything from the color of the landscape to inspiration from rappers and actors. The teens that won the apprenticeship have their clothes displayed at the library. Hopefully it will be an invitation and conversation for visitors to understand the many opportunities libraries have for teens.

Content creation can also mean digital. In this case, a video. My library partnered with several youth serving organizations in the community to share teen voices on camera about what the organization they affiliate with; whether the library or other group, means to them. This project is still in progress and wasn’t quite ready for the convention, but video is always a great medium in which teens can have their own voices heard not to mention develop editing and other technological skills to perfect telling their story.

In looking at the bigger picture of getting teens involved civically beyond your own library is having them participate in YALSA’s District Days. There’s been great information on the blog here about how to get involved, how to get the library involved, and what better way than to get teens involved but ask them to be an advocate for the library.

Stay tuned. . .and feel free to share how you are engaging your teens in relation to the upcoming election.

About Kelly Czarnecki

Kelly Czarnecki is a Teen Librarian at ImaginOn with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. She is a member of the YALSA blog advisory board.

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