Kit Ward-Crixell is a 40 year old technical services/teen librarian in New Braunfels, Texas. You can contact her with questions at: kwardcrixell[atsign]nbpl[dot]lib[dot]tx[dot]us or read her forthcoming blog which will be located at: www.librarypopcorn.wordpress.com.
When I started planning teen summer reading, I had one rule: The Clown Isn’t Coming Back. I privately imagined Bonzo the Fire-Farting Clown, packing the library with teens mesmerized by his flatulent abilities. (Don’t deny it; you know this would happen at your library too.) But I also knew however popular he was, if his show didn’t connect youth to the staff, to the collection, or to each other, they wouldn’t be coming back.
I wanted to create a teen summer reading program that was participatory, that turned teens into library creators instead of just library consumers. Some days this worked better than others. Here are some of the lessons I learned along the way.
1.) Eli Neiburger is Always Right (And That’s OK)
Eli says that when you create new programs, you get new kids. At first I didn’t believe him. I thought our regular teen patrons, the ones who volunteer or who drop by and say hi at the desk every week, would come once a month for “teen summer reading” no matter what the program was. Then we had our first program, a video game workshop, and the room was packed with kids I had never seen before in my life. None of my regulars showed.
Little kids will come to storytime no matter what the craft or the song is, but we don’t expect adults to come to the knitting group just because they like the bilingual computer class. The more our teen programming really addresses teen interests, the more their attendance will follow the adult pattern.
2.) If You Build It, They Will Improve It
Having visible nuts and bolts in a program encourages participants to tinker around with it. I’m sure the teens knew I was flying by the seat of my pants at several points; nothing says crash and burn like a highly publicized photography contest with a professional judge and zero entries. But at least that meant I was able to change things when the kids came up with their own programming ideas. I never would have thought that a teen writing group would be popular, but when they organized it on their own with no help from me, it turned out to be a hit.
3.) Fresher is Better
It skeeved me out when I explained my concept to a performer and they responded with a photocopied list of five programs I could pick from. You can’t impart a love of libraries by taking a canned performance and sticking “by the way, read books!” on the end. On the other hand, the great people who did help with our programming came through heroically for us. In many cases, they were trying something that was completely new for them, and it was clear from their energy and enthusiasm that they were looking at the teens as partners in their enterprise rather than just as an audience.
4.) Know Their Names
This needs no explanation, but it does come with a story. Back when I was doing youth ministry on the west coast, there was a legendary youth minister who we all wanted to be like. Once, while he was giving a talk at a church, a grouchy older lady berated him about the fact that the youth stopped coming to church once they turned thirteen. “What are their names?” he asked. Grouchy lady sputtered, “Well… well… I don’t know their names!” The youth minister came back, building to a crescendo, “If I’d been going to the same church for thirteen years and nobody knew my name, I’D LEAVE TOO!”
After this summer I’m more convinced than ever that it’s time to make youth programming more participatory. I started with the idea that having teens participate in content creation would bring them to the library; I ended up realizing that it would also result in some seriously excellent new ideas. Now you can see teens sitting in our redecorated youth area under a collage they made, writing their novels and drawing their manga. We’ve still got a way to go, but it sure looks like 2.0 to me.
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