A brief look at ‘grams of interest to engage teens and librarians navigating this social media platform.

Earlier this month, I was in a pinch preparing a sample craft for an upcoming children’s program and turned to my teen volunteer group for help. The goal was to make a sand bowl, a mixture of sand and white glue poured over bowl covered in plastic wrap. Once it dries, the bowl and plastic wrap are removed and — voilà! — a sand bowl. Despite following the directions I found online, my initial creation looked like the perfect example for one of those Pinterest expectation vs. reality memes. With the program coming up in a few days, I needed to make more bowls to determine the best glue to sand ratio for making a successful, pourable mixture. My teen volunteers were more than happy to take a break from our usual course of action and get their hands dirty with this craft. Much giggling ensued, food coloring was requested (which took the bowls to another level!), “This actually counts as volunteering time?” was asked several times, and together we figured out the best bowl recipe. Both our meeting and the bowls were a success, but more important is what happened in our following meetings.

At the following volunteer meeting we were brainstorming ways to decorate for Valentine’s Day. One of the students who assisted with the sand bowls offered to show us how to make tissue paper tassels that we could string together and hang. She picked out what she needed from the craft closet and taught us all (myself included) how to make them. The following week, she walked into our session and proclaimed, “I just learned how to make these hanging paper hearts I found online. They’d be perfect for us to make today and add to the [Valentine’s Day] display!” In preparation for our meeting, she had looked online for something else we could make, learned how to make them, and then offered that knowledge to the group to teach all of us. Needless to say, I have adjusted my approach with the teen volunteer group! I now allot time during our sessions for anyone with an impromptu activity for the group and within reason, supply necessary materials. It’s as if the floodgates have opened and, perhaps because a newfound feeling of staff support or camaraderie, ideas for future programs are pouring out of the group.

The Future of Library Services for and with Teens report discusses the importance of connected learning and how libraries can act as a connected learning center for teens. Connected learning is the learning that occurs when passions and interests are combined in a social atmosphere with peers and adults to gain knowledge that extends to academic, civic, or career related endeavors. In order to support this type of learning, library staff must form connections with teens, discuss their interests, and collaborate to develop programs and collections. The Futures report also provides that library staff should not shy away from taking risks to determine what works, and changes will be made based on the current needs of teens. Outcomes of adjustments made to programs and collections as a means to foster connected learning are measured by new skills and knowledge gained. As with my example of the sand bowls and subsequent craft ideas, with a few spur of the moment changes, you never know who you might empower to step out of their shell, share with the group, and lead!

The Instagram images featured this week are examples of programs and activities that support connected learning. Some feature collaborations between teens and staff, while others highlight materials and collections that can support teen interests. Have you had a similar experience and made changes to support teen interests? Share with us the comments section below!

For more information on connected learning, please visit YALSA’s Connected Learning tumblr and watch the Connected Learning video. YALSAblog’s archived blog posts on the topic are available under the Connected Learning/Learning category tag on the website.


About Meaghan Darling

Meaghan is the Youth Services Librarian at the Sparta Public Library in Sparta, New Jersey.

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