When we think of creating programming for teens, our first thoughts are probably what are teens into? A Teen Advisory Board can be helpful in deciding which programs they might be interested in. Casually bring up all ages events at TAB meetings, and whether a teen wants to volunteer to help run it or show up for the event itself, it boosts attendance and their enjoyment of library activities.

It can be hard to separate what I think is awesome from what my teens might, so I even had to question whether they would be into Pokemon Go. (Clearly, it’s taken off with all age groups, but that’s a whole other blog post.) So when it comes to creating programming specifically for teens, maybe we restrict ourselves too much. I know that YALSA members want to provide targeted programming for teenagers but it is important not to ignore the fact that sometimes teenagers really want to participate in programs aimed at younger readers.

It’s a delicate balance to strike in order to invite teens into all-ages programming. First, you need to make them feel welcome there, instead of making them feel like the kid who never outgrew Chuck E. Cheese. The children at an all-ages event also need to feel comfortable with having older teenagers around. I’ll repeat that it’s important to have specific, targeted programming for teens, but also it’s important to make them feel included in general library events.

Recently at my library there was a petting zoo as part of our Summer Reading Program, and it was conceived for younger children, the normal age group for an activity like this. I was surprised at how many teenagers, caregivers (and library staff) were excited for the petting zoo. One of my Teen Advisory Board members brought friends, while another volunteered, and they were more than thrilled to pick up the bunnies and the chicken, and pet the pig that had come along as well.

srpl petting zoo

(Photo by me)

Although all ages was included in the event description, I was sure that wording usually drove teenagers away, and yet they do want to be included in programming like this. In working with the other members of the team at your library, you need to ask yourself, “will this appeal to my teens?” and try to market it to them as well. They will not feel welcome at the event unless you welcome them, so make sure they know which events they can attend.

A library in my consortium even hosts Throwback Thursdays, where teenagers can “play with Legos… [and] drink juice boxes” and do all the things they miss about being kids, and it seems to be a popular event. These are all ideas to toss around in your own library, a way to make sure that teenagers really feel included in every aspect of the library.

All ages isn’t always going to work out. Our library also has a Board Game Night that could be attended by teens, but the audience skews much younger because teenagers see it and think “that’s too young for me.” However, the night is open to all ages if they want to participate, and if more attended we could buy more difficult strategy games like Settlers of Catan. The important thing is to make them feel included by adding more mature games that require more strategy. They need to be better marketed towards teens as well. It can be a social space for them, a place to hang out that isn’t the mall or at home, and if we can make it feel more welcoming to teens as part of their space, then we’re doing a service to the whole library.


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