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.