Part 3: Marketing, Creating, and Running Your Program

In Part One of this series, I talked about the values of big programming and in Part Two, I talked about putting together a Teen Planning Committee to help you come up with something spectacular. Now, it’s time for your event. What do you do?


Marketing is one of the biggest components of big programming. You’re trying to draw in a new audience (and actually get people to come to your event), so it’s important to have a detailed marketing plan.

Split the effort between you and your Teen Planning Committee. Put a teen or a group of teens in charge of social media marketing. Teens are up on the latest trends that are happening in their community. Whether they use Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, Snapchat, or _______ (I’m leaving a blank here to symbolize something I’ve never heard of), teens will know how to spread the word. Students also have an advantage you don’t have: word-of-mouth. Your Teen Planning Committee can talk to their friends and family about the event, who will talk to their friends, and so forth.

You can take care of the standard library marketing like posting the event in the newsletter and on the website and hanging posters around the library. Press releases are also an important way of getting the word out to the community. Try to get your event listed in community calendars and on local blogs. If you can get a reporter to write a piece about your event ahead of time, that’s even better. Spreading the word to parents is important as well. Contact the local PTA and see if they can help promote your program or list it in an events calendar.

Our Programming Format

I think we owe a large part of our success with big programming is attributable to our program structure. At our Hunger Games, Haunted Library, and Comic Con events, we had multiple activities running at same time. The result was ‘ free-form, allowing students to choose their own experience. At our Hunger Games event, we had two bands, and we used our book stacks to create an “arena” for a Nerf ball-based Hunger Games. We had a DJ at our Haunted Library event and created a Haunted Labyrinth through our stacks. At both events, we used our smaller reading rooms for gaming activities.

Simultaneous activities that have worked for us:

  • Video game competitions
  • Face-painting
  • Costume contests
  • Speakers: If you are doing an event with multiple activities, make sure speakers can do 20-30-minute sets, in order to accommodate revolving groups of kids.
  • Food
  • Scavenger hunts
  • Lounge areas filled with candy: it’s great to have an area for teens to sit and socialize between activities

Our Hunger Games and Haunted Library events were more theatrical, so we did opening and closing ceremonies in character (if you ever want to know true power, dress as Effie Trinket). Of course this isn’t necessary, but our Teen Planning Committee loves a certain amount of flair, as exemplified by our Memorial Day float. Yes, we’ve taken it to the streets:

The Teen Planning Committee and our Memorial Day Float

The Teen Planning Committee and our Memorial Day Float

Getting More Help

If you’re thinking about an event with a lot of things going on at once, you’re going to need the staff to back it up. Our Hunger Games, Haunted Library, and Comic Con events got big enough that we needed to involve support volunteers. The majority of your event can be run by you and your Teen Planning Committee. However, the bigger your event gets, the more help you will need for all kinds of things: setting up, cleaning up, assisting with activities, and chaperoning.

How do you get staff involved?

Getting support from at least a few other staff members is vital if you are going to have a bigger event. It reinforces your organization’s committed to teen programming, it gets teens engaged with staff members they may not already know, and when it comes down to it, staff members have keys and they know the building well. It’s a fun opportunity for staff to do something different. If you’re enthusiastic, you can definitely find people around who will support you.

Many staff members have special talents that they don’t get to use in their everyday jobs. For example, we have a staff member who is amazing at party decorations and another staff member who owns theatrical lights and knows how to do lighting design. Both of these women were excited to use their skills at our Hunger Games and Haunted Library events and to engage with the library in a different way. Dressing up in a crazy costume and planning a lighting theme for an event is definitely a change of pace from working in technical services.

If you want to involve staff members, minimize the burden on them. Make it fun. If your event starts at 8, have staff come at 7:30. Simply have them interact, direct, and enjoy the event. Don’t make it feel like they’re at work.

How do you recruit support volunteers?

At the beginning of our Hunger Games and Haunted Library projects, we sent out an email to our entire library listserv, requesting volunteers for the events. When I received replies, I sorted them. Those who wanted to be actively involved were recruited to the planning committee and those who wanted to help for that evening only were recruited as support volunteers. Sending out these emails early were great ways of receiving early publicity for our events. We also reached out to volunteer organizations in town and also found volunteers through word-of-mouth.

I recommend trying to meet all of your volunteers ahead of time. Try to organize volunteer information sessions, or just try to catch people in the library when you can. It helps if you can explain the event details and expectations in advance to your volunteers, and also helps you gauge ahead of time if the volunteer your are recruiting will be helpful. We started our events by thinking the more volunteers the better, but we’ve since learned that things run smoother with fewer, more focused volunteers than with a bunch of people standing around acting confused.

Organizing Your Event

I probably don’t need to pitch this too hard to librarians, but having tight organization is important to planning large events, especially when you are managing multiple volunteers.

Spreadsheets: We make detailed spreadsheets ahead of time, which describe each volunteer’s specific area, duties, supervisor, and hours of service. We share these as a Google Doc, so everybody can see the information from home.

Volunteers organized by spreadsheet.

Volunteers organized by spreadsheet.

Elect team leaders: At our events, members of our Teen Planning Committee are in charge of different activities. We divide the library into areas and elect team leaders to oversee them. For example, one area might include registration and food, another might be the gaming area, and so forth. We color code the areas on the spreadsheet, because we love the way color-coded spreadsheets look, and because it’s easy for students to say they’re on the “blue team” or “red team.” Before our events, we have team leaders meet with teens who will be working in their area in order to plan strategies for the event. We make teams responsible for setting up their particular areas. This way, volunteers work in small groups and focus on small areas, making for a more efficient set-up.

Team leaders are responsible for checking in with me throughout the event. Big events are hectic and when you’re running around, the less people you have to check in with, the better.

Define responsibility: Make sure everybody understands his/her role and schedule ahead of time. If a teen is being wishy-washy about their availability, assign them a role with more flexibility. If a teen wants a big role, but isn’t showing up to meetings, assign them something that isn’t vital to the operation as a whole, but will make them part of the action if he/she does come, such as “gaming assistant.”

Only you know what this is: If you’re pulling off an event with multiple activities, advertise the big stuff, and keep the rest vague. You only have to deliver on what you’ve advertised. If kids have come to hear a certain band, be sure that band shows up. However, they won’t know that you planned to decorate the band’s area with 20 strands of lights and garlands that you have made by hand. The day of your event will be crazy. Maybe your creepy Little Red Riding Hood can’t make it or maybe your butcher paper backdrop rips. Or, perhaps a hurricane happens four days before your event. Just do your best and roll with it. It’s easy to become obsessed with small details, but no teen is going to walk out of your event because you forgot to hang up crepe paper.

Well, there are some small details: Forget about crepe paper and strobe lights for a minute and focus on what you actually need. If you’re doing a variety of activities, what supplies do these activities need? Make a small kit or file folder for each activity leader so they are properly prepared. You’d be amazed how easy it is to forget that a registration table needs pens, or that a food table needs napkins.

Your Role

Be a coach: Your Teen Planning Committee will be running the event. Think of yourself as both a leader and an assistant. All events need somebody in charge, and this should be you. However, this is an event about teen leadership, so try to lead from the sidelines. You’re their coach for the evening: they’re the ones playing the game. So, do what good coaches do: offer guidance, stay on top of details, and give a great motivational speech. Continually walk around the event to check in with team leaders. See if they need supplies or are having any issues. Let teens know that you will take care of disciplinary situations if they arise. They should not have that burden.

This is not about you: Yes, you might have been up until midnight the night before making sure everything was in the correct color-coded folder, but don’t let stress or frustration distract you from what you’re trying to achieve: an event that is planned, implemented, and run by teens. When speaking about your event, try not to use the word “I” or “my” (especially in front of press). Your event will be a collective effort of teens, volunteers and staff members. Your event is an “our.”

Keep calm and carry on: Although you might be FREAKING OUT on the inside, try to stay calm on the outside. You don’t want to give the impression that you don’t have faith in your program. Also, remember to eat. All of our big programs have literally been Hunger Games for me. I’m going to take my own advice someday.

Clean up: ‘ Make sure the library looks the same as it did before you started these shenanigans. Hopefully the majority of your committee will stay to help, but understand if kids have to go home due to curfews. Work with the people you have and be thorough. If you’re doing a big event, I seriously recommend buying large contractor garbage bags. Large contractor bags fit a lot of trash and are very heavy duty. Our clean-ups have gone much quicker since we discovered these.

Remember your manners: Your event is over and you’re exhausted. Remember this: everybody worked hard and everybody is exhausted. Send out thank-you emails to all of your volunteers and congratulatory emails to your Teen Planning Committee for a job well done. Have a “wrap” party with a cake to celebrate the end of a great project.

I really, really wish we had a cake this fancy.

I really, really wish we had a cake this fancy.

In Summary

Hopefully these articles have inspired you to give big programming a try. Big programs offer a new way for teens to engage with the library, and a chance for teens to develop leadership skills. They are also a way to attract a new teen audience to your events. Big programs give staff a chance to interact with teens, it shows the community that your library is committed to youth programming, and it reminds everybody that your town has a librarian devoted to teen services.

I’ve summarized what we’ve done at our library and what’s worked for us. Every library and community is different, so pick and choose what works for you. If I stress anything, give teens a chance to plan, implement, and run an event. No matter what you do, if you’ve succeeded in empowering teens in program planning, your event will be “big.”

If you need advice, feel free to contact me:

May the odds be ever in your favor.


About Jaina Lewis

Teen Services Librarian at The Westport Library in Westport, CT since 2006. Minnesotan at heart. Current chair of Teen Tech Week. @jainalibrarian

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