by Tina Hager,
Little Elm Public Library Director
It is back to school time again and that means that it’s back to the library again for a lot of the youth. The library can be a lot of things to the teens and tweens (or is it preens?). Some reasons that they come include a place to hang out with friends, including a meet up place for dates (that their parents may or may not know about); use the computers for gaming, MySpace, or other social networking sites; or waiting for parents to pick them up either right after school or in many cases until the library closes. Oh, and of course to check out books, read, and or do homework.
If you don’t have very many (11-17) year olds at your library, it is time to question why. This age group is a very important age for both you and them. This is the age where the parents don’t necessarily have to bring them or pick them up. This is the time when this age group is left to make a lot of their own decisions which also includes forming habits that they may or not continue doing when they become adults. It is also a time when they are making memories and if the library is not a positive memorable experience for them, believe me they will remember that when they become voting adults or start raising children of their own. I remember when I was a teen volunteer aide in my high school library and I met someone who was very upset because their teacher sent them to the library as a punishment for acting up in class. Even back then I knew that that student would probably not have a very good memory of libraries when they grew up. It is very important that we provide memorable experiences so that they will carry that with them through their adulthood.
It does not take a lot of money, space, or staff time to show you care. First of all, if you don’t have teens or tweens visiting your library, focus on that first. Is your staff and your library teen friendly or do you have a library environment that gives off the “We don’t do teens 'tude”? Do you have a middle school nearby that would be within walking distance? If not, then find out the email addresses of your school librarians and keep them posted on things that you are adding that may be of interest to the teens. Pass the word through parents that you know have teens at home. Many teens use MySpace as their social network. If you have time, start a MySpace page or better yet, see if you can get a teen to help you. Word of mouth can make or break your teen scene success.
Programs are another way to reach teens. Survey the ones who visit your library but also ask the school librarians if they would pass out surveys as well. Keep it short and simple. One program that we have had in the past that is very popular is a Food Fear Factor. We purchase about ten items that we think teens might not like and then have a contest to see who can eat one of everything. Whoever finishes gets a prize from our reading club prize box. Of course you can make the prizes as big or little as you wish depending on your budget. I do have a sample copy of our permission letter if anyone would like to see it. The teens are already asking when we are doing the next one. Electronic gaming is another program that is very popular. If you don’t have gaming equipment then either check out equipment from your System office or ask for donations/use from a gaming store, your community, or the kids themselves. Over the past year we have acquired a GameCube, Playstation2, Xbox360, and two Wii’s. Don’t worry if you don’t know anything about gaming, the kids will help. We usually assign a teen volunteer to get everything set up and take care of the program.
A club that got started by noticing kids reading Manga is our Anime club. We meet two times a month. One thing that they like to do is chalk art on the sidewalk outside the library. They also like to have Anime parties. We usually hold one once a year. Some of the activities held at that time include watching movies; art contests displaying illustrations they have drawn; Cosplay (they pick a character and use recycled materials to make the costume for that character); listen to music; and have of course, food.
Keeping your eyes and ears open to teen interests is an important first step. Though you don’t have to have a youth services librarian to serve teens, it is very important to serve teens and tweens with youth services. The success of our youth and future of our libraries depend on it.