Monday, April 23, 2012

Teen Programming Part 2

Read Part One

I've been trying to get teen programming off the ground for three years now, and I'm hoping that I'm finally reaching success. Let's talk about it, shall we?

Library Background, three years ago:
No teen program. We have a teen space, but the library as a whole is not teen friendly. There is a 'comfy chair' seating area in a bank of windows, but there's a tendency to see that as 'adult seating' and teens who sit there are eyed warily and frowned upon. Before my time there was a futon couch in the teen area, which led to lots of making-out problems. So that was removed and a study table was put in--unfortunately being near some of the only outlets in the library, this table is monopolized by adult laptop users. We also have this awful set-up where the library has two entrances to a giant hallway that is isolated from the rest of the library. The local Boys and Girls club was a block away, and kids coming from there would head to the library if they had no where else to go. These kids had little or no interest in using the library, just needed a place to hang out and continue being unruly. Teens tended to congregate in the entrances and hallway and there were problems with noise, swearing, and blocking entrances.

What I tried first: 2009
Building relationships with the teens who were coming to the library. I would go talk to them, say hi, learn their names etc. Whenever there was a discipline issue, I tried to get other staff to let me handle it and I would use a relational approach to deal with it. "Hey, you know you guys can't use that kind of language if you want to hang out here. I have no problem with you being here, it's your library too, but you need to follow the basic rules and make sure that you're not disrupting other people." That type of thing.

How it went:
It worked.  And it didn't. I built great relationships with many of the 'trouble-makers.' They would come seek me out in my office (part of the library they'd never venture into otherwise). I got random hugs. They listened to me--or at least tried--and respected the rules. But all my teen events were flops, except the lock-in. I would tell them about my events, they would sound excited and promise to come...and they wouldn't. The lock-in was the only event that would attract a large enough group to justify the planning, but the dynamics were terrible. I'd have some quiet, shy, and respectful kids I didn't know well, some of my 'trouble-makers,' and some of my trouble-makers' friends who were loud, crazy, and not at all interested in whatever it was I had planned. I'd plan activities and games that would just devolve into chaos. That dynamic was like oil and water, and nothing really worked. It drove everyone away.

Winter '09/'10: 
More events like I had during summer. More flops. I had my second lock-in. As with the first it was a success attendance-wise, but didn't lead to any other success.

Summer '10:
I had a bunch of random teen events throughout the summer. I made myself a public facebook account and tried using that to advertise/reach the teens in the community. I was constantly using great ideas from successful teen programs--Minute-to-Win-It, spa days, Wii games, art programs etc. All were flops.

Winter '10/'11:
Didn't really do much during the school year. In August 2010 the library went through a reorganization, and it was incredibly chaotic. How the library worked was restructured, two full-time positions were lost and five part-time front-desk staff were hired.

Summer '11: "One World Many Stories"
I came up with a PLAN. Since all these big fancy one-off type programs weren't working, I would offer consistent weekly teen programming on a variety of topics to try and start building a solid group of teens who would prioritize coming to my events. I would then continue "Teen Thursdays" into the school year and taste sweet sweet success. The events would be smaller/require less work from me, but they would always have treats and would happen consistently. I gave it the old college try, but, yeah--flop. I think the highest attendance at any Teen Thursday was eight, maybe? And I had no consistent attendees.

Winter '11/'12: 
I pretty much gave up. I stopped my feeble attempts at Teen Thursday around the end of November, and  decided to focus on tweens. I had a super successful Diary of a Wimpy Kid Book 6 party (like, whoa, 100 people were there). I was ecstatic! We were playing large group circle games, I was in heaven! I asked them if they'd like it if I had more game events to play games like we were doing right then and they said YES! Two weeks later I had a game event--same day of the week, same time, same advertising format. Two kids showed up. I scratched my planned twice-a-month tween events off the calendar in frustration. I wanted to give up on all kids older than six.

Since this is so long, I'm going to stop here. Look for "Part 3: Where We're at Now" coming soon.


  1. Hi Anna, I'm presuming, because you called your part 1 "Sweet Success...", that there is better news to come. It's facinating to read about your journey (one that I've not had the courage or opportunity to attempt yet). Thank you for sharing your experiences.

  2. This is a great break down Anna. I'm going through much of what you are, particularly in the early stages. I know a lot of my teens names, they will come talk to me in my office and ask for book suggestions but if they even get a wiff of programming, it's like they are out of there.

    I'm trying 3 teen programs this summer. I don't want to be pessimistic because teen programming is a growing thing so I'm just going to give it the old college try.

  3. I too feel your frustration! I finally decided to build on my kids "aging out" of children's programs and since they are already programmed to coming to the library, I am trying to build on that. Gotta start somewhere and that's where I'm at now.


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