This is my second year working as the children & youth services librarian at my small library in Bath County, Kentucky on the edge of Appalachia. Last year, it was nearly impossible to get teens into the library — I averaged one every two weeks! So in September 2017, I approached the high school librarian and proposed hosting a morning book club at the high school library. With her help promoting to students in school, we met with about 20 teens every Monday morning during their study zone. We covered many of the YA novels that were nominated for a 2017-2018 Kentucky Bluegrass Award and concluded the school year with a lesson on adulting (at the request of the teens!). Through this weekly book club, the teens began to get to know me and request books from the public library that I was able to check out to them using the mobile app for our library ILS.
I applied for the YALSA/Dollar General Summer Learning grant in the spring and when I received it, I knew exactly how I would get more than the 1 or 2 teens I had the previous summer. I started by offering my book club group the opportunity to form an advisory council at the public library and I lured them in with food. This got the teens into the library and gave them some ownership over the YA stacks. Of the twenty teens in the book club, five formed the Teen Advisory Council. Through their suggestions on programming needs and books, I was able to create a series of programs that would fit into the CSLP theme “Libraries Rock” and would provide the teens with much needed mental health and self-care resources.
Our small town of 1200 has a yearly celebration that seems to mark the beginning of summer – May Day is celebrated during the second weekend of May and includes a parade, a fair with local craft vendors & food trucks, a beauty pageant, and other activities for families to participate in. Our library is actively involved in this celebration and provides a storytime for young families and is host to the Art Council’s art show. This celebration also kicks off our initial Summer Reading sign ups since the majority of the county is out and visiting the library. I took this opportunity to push for teen registration in summer reading. Because my grant allowed me to purchase bullet journals, copies of Playlist for the Dead by Michelle Falkoff, and art supplies, I was able to entice students by offering these incentives if they came to the first session. I registered roughly 20 teens between May 12 and June 1 and was able to reach students outside of my book club.
Despite having 20 registered teens, I did worry about actual attendance to the programs. The previous year I had 15 teens register for summer reading but only 1 or 2 show up for programs. This is why I didn’t give out the bullet journals or books until the programs began – I wanted teens to actually come! Because our county is so impoverished, many people do not have the means to afford vehicles or regular gasoline consumption. This makes transportation is an issue in my county, so I was concerned that teens who didn’t live close by wouldn’t make it to the library over the summer. In the end, I had a solid group of six teens that regularly attended the programs each week.
My work during the school year had created relationships with teens and convinced them that the public library was actually a place they could come and have fun and learn and, most importantly, be safe. Through all of this, I learned that although it may seem like I am not making a difference or I’m not reaching students… I am. My early Monday mornings at the high school were not for nothing. I learned to be encouraged by this little win of mine and I learned to not be discouraged when outside factors like transportation keep youth from accessing the public library.
Crystal Laiben is the Children & Youth Services Coordinator at the Bath County Memorial Library in Owingsville, KY. She has a background in philosophy and children & youth ministry.