Last Thursday, I finished the fabulous two-part webinar offered by ALA Editions called “Collaborating with Teens to Build Better Library Programs”. The presenter, Jennifer Velásquez, is the Coordinator of Teen Services for the San Antonio Public Library System. The bulk of the webinar was about working with teens to build programs they really want, and it was great. Multiple blog posts could be written about that, and I left inspired and excited.

However, one of the most intriguing parts of the webinar came up in a question asked by a participant in the chat. She asked, “What do you do when younger kids want to come to your teen programs?” This is something I’ve had to deal with before, as I’m sure many teen librarians have, and I’m never sure of the answer. Jennifer’s answer was great—she said she’s tasked with serving teens ages 13-18, and that’s the audience that can come to programs. It’s the audience she’s committed to. Read More →

We had our first snow here in Colorado last week, and it got me thinking about winter. I love winter: hot chocolate, snow, baking, the holidays, and more time to read—it’s one of my favorite seasons. However, things around the library always get a little slow in the winter months. Circulation is down, and due to people’s busy schedules, attendance at programs is down as well. Teens, like all of our other patrons, get busy with the holidays, schoolwork, and more, and we see less of them.

I’m wondering about what would be a good strategy for this less-than-busy season. As overall usage is down at the library during these months, is building numbers a lost cause? Is it better to stick with some classic programming (like TAB meetings, Game Nights, etc.), but keep the overall programming light and use the extra time for planning for the busier spring and summer months? Or is it possible to fight against the lower usage trends in November and December and do creative, fun programming and other events that could bring more teens in the door? I don’t have answers—I’m hoping this post will spark a conversation.

I’m a relatively new librarian, so I’m curious as to what other librarians do during the winter months. Do you have successful teen programming that you can suggest? Or do you spend the time planning and regrouping for later?

I’ve been doing a lot of outreach lately. We recently had a contest at my library specifically aimed at teens to promote a new virtual reference service we’re offering. To get the word out, my coworkers and I went to quite a few back to school nights and talked to a lot of teens. Here’s what I learned:

1. Stick to a simple message. Having the contest to promote really helped us to have a clear, concise message to share with the teens. We came up with a sound bite that we could quickly say to people who stopped by the table. Most of the time, parents and teens at back to school nights are in a hurry. We wanted to keep it quick. Of course, if the teens wanted to talk with us more, we could share more about what the library did, but promoting a specific event helped us have a short, effective message.

2. Bring candy. I’ve said this before in relation to school visits, and it definitely worked. Having a bowl of candy at the table kept us approachable and we had quite a few parents and kids stop by, grab a piece of candy, and say hi.

3. Bring materials to share. We had bookmarks and flyers promoting the contest and the new service. Giving people something concrete to take with them is helpful. We also had some pens and notepads leftover from old programs that we brought along—people loved grabbing the free stuff and it gave them another excuse to stop by our table.

4. Get other teens on your side. At most of the back to school nights we went to, we just had a table in the hall. There were usually teen ambassadors who were directing parents and teens to where they needed to go. Making friends with those teens was invaluable. They would steer other kids to our table to hear about the contest and say hi.

5. Have fun! I’ll admit that going to back to school nights almost constantly could become tiring. However, getting to talk to teens and tell them about the cool things the library is doing is such a privilege that I always ended up having a blast. Whenever I felt tired or drained, I’d just keep in mind how much fun the visit would be and it always was. That let me joke around and have a blast meeting teens and introducing them to what the library has to offer.

When I read this article about the New York Public Library waiving outstanding fines for children and teens in return for reading, it put a big smile on my face. NYPL has found a great way to promote literacy, build goodwill in the community, and encourage kids who may have felt disconnected from the library to come back.

The basic plan is this: if anyone 17 or under is barred from checking out materials due to fines over $15, they can work off their fines by reading. Read 15 minutes, get a dollar off your fines. So simple, yet so effective.

If you need further proof that this is a great way to get your community excited by the library, read the comment by “portals” after the article. Here is part of the comment: “Maybe there is some hope left in this world … the act depicted in this article is such a wonderful breath of fresh air.” I think this is a win-win situation for libraries—we get to bring our kids and teens back into the library, the community gets excited that we’re using this to promote literacy, and we get to reiterate what libraries do and why they’re so important for children and teens. Yes, it means forfeiting some fine revenue, but as the article points out it’s far from guaranteed that the library will actually see that money anyway.

Here’s a final thought from the article that really made me dance a happy dance at my desk: “’We trust our kids,’ Martin said, noting that many city children consider reading a pleasure to be enjoyed rather than a chore to be avoided.” It seems like that’s exactly what we want to promote among our teens at our libraries: A sense of trust and the idea that reading is fun.

My library is extremely busy during the summer. I’ve been thinking a lot about how we can keep our patrons this engaged with the library all year long. In a way, summer is easy. Although our teens have vacations and other summer activities, they also have a lot more down time than during the school year. They love air conditioning (don’t we all!) and having a free place to hang out. Programs in the summer fill up fast, and they are a popular way for teens to spend their time.

However, during the school year, many teens are overscheduled and overbooked. Even if a program looks interesting to a teen, many don’t have the time to carve an hour out of their day to come to a program. How can we keep teens excited about coming to the library, even if they don’t have time to pencil us in to their busy schedules? One idea I’d like to try out more is passive programming.

According to the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC), passive programming, “promotes the library and its materials and services without providing a formal program at a specific time or date.” Passive programs are informal and allow for teens to complete the program at their own pace and on their own schedule.

In January my library system had a “Valentines for Veterans” table at each of our branches. Patrons could create Valentine’s Day cards—there was paper, glue sticks, cut out shapes appropriate for Valentine’s Day, markers, stickers, and more. It was wildly successful. People of all ages enjoyed getting to take time to make a card for a veteran—some people spent 2 minutes, some people spent 20, but we had an overwhelmingly positive response.

Although this program wasn’t geared specifically at teens, the teens at my branch enjoyed it immensely. It gave them a break to do something fun and it didn’t take a lot of time. I like the idea of having more passive programs, in addition to normal programming, throughout the year to engage more teen patrons. The TSLAC suggests many other great passive programs you can do: writing a story using prompts, book swap shelf, scavenger hunts, and video reviews.

Have you tried passive programming at your library? What passive program ideas can you share?

Ah, summer and the teen summer reading program. It’s one of my favorite times in the library. I love that the library provides a safe place for teens to spend some of their summer hours—a place where they can read, use the computers, hang out, and ‘ go to fun programs. Over the past few weeks, I’ve found that as much as I love the summer reading program, preparing for and promoting it can be just as fun. School visits are the best!

In my district, school visits are usually an all day event, and for the teen summer reading program we normally only visit middle schools. We set up in the school media center and classes come in and visit us throughout the day. It’s a very fun, but very long, day. The time allotted to us varies by school, but is usually about 30-50 minutes per group of kids. We spend the first half of the visit talking about the summer reading program (dates, prizes, programs over the summer, etc.) and the second half booktalking and giving the teens ideas for books to read.

This was my first year doing school visits as a librarian for my district. I’ve been having a blast meeting with teens, telling them about the summer reading program, and booktalking some great books. I have some really great colleagues and I’ve learned a ton while doing school visits this year, so I thought I’d share some tips and tricks to help other new librarians.

  1. Bring candy! Bribery works, and handing out candy for participation gets the teens more involved in, and excited about, your presentation. One of my colleagues gives a piece of candy to every teen who has their library card on them and can show it to us, which is a lot of fun. We also give out candy when we booktalk books—if a teen requests that we talk about a book, they get a piece of candy.
  2. Nonfiction, nonfiction, nonfiction. I personally love novels, but have found that bringing nonfiction is a great way to involve more reluctant readers. I brought Bat Boy Lives! and a book on Phineas Gage this year and both generated a lot of interest. A coworker brought Elizabeth Berkley’s new advice book, Ask Elizabeth, which was also very popular.
  3. Compelling covers are key. There are a few books that I love but don’t have the best covers. I’ve learned to just leave those at home. They never get asked about, and I get sad that I don’t get to share a favorite book with everyone.
  4. Bring more books than you think you’ll need. I’ve found that certain books get asked about over and over again, and I need a break from booktalking them. I will switch them out for other books periodically throughout the day.
  5. Different formats are a good thing. We try to bring a wide variety of formats—graphic novels, nonfiction, audio books, etc.—to have a book that everyone could be interested in. I’ve found with audio books, the trick is to also bring the physical book as well. Audio book covers aren’t always as easy to read or see, and depending on your vendor sometimes aren’t very interesting, so it’s nice to display the actual book on top of the audio book. Then when someone asks about it, I make sure to mention that I listened to the book and loved the audio version. If your library has Playaways, that’s also a great option to share with teens who may have never heard of them before.
  6. Joke around and don’t be afraid of being a geek. When we asked our Teen Advisory Board what they wanted from school visits to make them more exciting, one of our teens said, “More nerdy library jokes.”

As you might have already guessed, school visits are one of my favorite things to do—it’s a great time, a great way to promote the library and literacy, and is one of the many times where I can’t believe I actually get paid to do something so awesome. These are just some of my favorite tips for school visits—what are some things that really help you and make your school visits great?