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Successful library teen programming starts with teens. At my library, the programs that have the highest attendance are those that teens have created. On top of that, the outcomes of these programs are exponentially greater when the leadership skills the teens acquire are considered. When teens have ownership and authentic decision-making power, not only will your library’s connection to the community be enhanced, the chance to build equity in giving learning opportunities to youth is hard found elsewhere.
One goal of YALSA’s “The Future of Library Services for and with Teens” is for libraries to embrace a connected-learning (CL) model; a highly social and interest-driven approach that provides educational and civic opportunities, combining personal interests and supportive relationships. Teen-led programs are one of the library’s easiest paths to integrate CL into library services for and with teens. An example of success: a teen with a growing interest in civic engagement brainstormed with the library’s teen council and created a library program based on political activism. She invited a city commissioner to have a conversation with teens. Through this process, she honed her own interests, and, post–high school, is now pursuing education in public policy.
Another aspect of YALSA’s “Transforming Teen Services” is to help libraries embed computational-thinking (CT) activities. CT, the thought processes used to formulate problems and their solutions, is often associated more with coding, but it is a life skill that can be applied across all disciplines. Teens given the opportunity to take on a project that involves planning, executing, and evaluating allows for the principles of CT, such as breaking down problems into smaller parts and developing instructions or plans, to be used.
An important component of CT is helping teens to understand that failure is always an option and that this is OK. Recently, a teen-planned Story Slam event was cancelled when branches closed due to COVID-19. The organizers tried turning this into a virtual event with little restructuring for the virtual setting. And then no one showed. Through evaluation, they broke down the factors of why the event might have benefited from different marketing and structure, concluding the same steps for an in-person event didn’t work the same for a virtual setting. They can now apply the lessons to future virtual endeavors.
Teen-led program planning and execution often looks and feels messy. For adult helpers, it is a balance of gently managing expectations while not hindering creativity. Every teen and teen group is different. How this looks, what programs they take on, and where it goes will vary, but be ready to be surprised. Here are some things to consider:
This has brought some of the best surprises with groups I’ve led. While planning a camp for elementary-age kids, I had teen organizers ask me for some child-development info on that age. I created a short presentation and tip sheet and was impressed by how it was referred to in their planned activities.
Evaluation and acceptance of failure.Success comes in many forms, and evaluation is essential in building CT skills—even if something feels like a flop.
Be prepared to advocate.Depending where your library is when it comes to teen services, this can vary. Take an outcomes-based approach, such as with YALSA’s “Teens First: Basic Learning Outcomes,” to get the support needed.
Danielle Jones is a youth and teen librarian at Multnomah County Library in Portland, OR, striving to remove barriers between youth and the public library. She is currently serving as cochair of ALSC’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Task Force and coordinator for YALSA’s Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults. She can usually be found listening to an audiobook.
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