With some of the discussion lately about how others in the profession see youth services and especially youth programs I wanted to talk about a topic I personally find very important: the point of doing programs. I’m going to talk specifically about teens, but nearly everything applies to all ages.
Programs are an investment. Even programs that are cheap materials-wise take staff time and energy and require the public to invest time and energy. So, with all that time and energy, and often money invested why do we do programs?
1. We do programs to encourage the development of reading, writing, and other literacy related skills.
These are your more traditional library programs like book clubs, writing groups, and essay contests. We give teens a chance to explore words and information outside the restrictions of the classroom often helping them improve without them even realizing it.
2. We do programs to promote the collection.
We want our materials to circulate, we want our collections to be used. We want our patrons to understand how our materials, both fiction and non-fiction fit into their lives. Programs provide an exciting and hands on introduction to a subject that allows us to promote related resources. A Hunger Games or zombie survival program helps us share readalikes, a prom fashion show is the perfect introduction to the beauty and fashion collections. All programs should promote the collection at least a little.
3. We do programs to provide expert information.
We bring in experts to share information that teens need to know. Some of the more common topics include college planning, finance, and health topics but really the only limit is our imaginations and our patrons’ interests. Not only do teens learn the information itself, but we’re also teaching them where to find credible sources of information in our community. Some of the more successful programs of this type I’ve put together include recognizing and getting help for abusive dating relationships, healthy snacking, and job interview dress and behavior.
4. We do programs to engage teens in the library.
While we hope that all programs do this the ones we offer mostly with this goal in mind are often the most controversial. These programs are ones like mini-golf in the library, ice-cream socials, and life-size board games. While they don’t always do 1 or 3 they occasionally do 2 and they nearly always do 6 and 7.
More than that they can serve as a patron’s first interaction with the library and are essential in reaching previously under-served populations. All the other goals we have of promoting reading, registering users, creating life-long learners, and being indispensable to our community will not happen without some type of first contact between patron and library. Programs are often that first contact.
5. We do programs to allow teens to express themselves.
Teens need creative outlets and art and other creative programs in schools have taken tons of cuts. For older students they often don’t get opportunities to explore art, music, or creative writing if they don’t happen to be talented in it. If you ask second graders if they like to draw almost all of them will say yes, but the kid who drew the sort-of-piggish-cow looking animal is not taking art in high school. They still might want to pick up a pencil or a glue gun. These kinds of creative activities help teens explore their identity, whichever part of that they might be embracing at the moment.
6. We do programs to provide a structured social setting.
In her book I Found it On the Internet Frances Jacobson Harris said, “If play is a child’s work socializing is a teens.” Programs as a structured social setting have lots to offer as far teachable moments about sharing supplies, appropriate boundaries for content and use of materials, following directions, interacting with unfamiliar peers and adults and many other things. Additionally we all know that bored teens in the library will make their own entertainment and that usually doesn’t work out well for anyone involved.
7. We do programs to build developmental assets.
By now I assume you are familiar with the Search Institute’s 40 Developmental Assets. They really are a great reference point for working with youth. In fact, they now have asset lists for younger children as well. These can be really helpful not only in thinking about what we want teens to get out of programs, but for explaining to administrators and other stake holders why youth programs are so important. Here are just a few of the developmental assets supported by youth programming in the library:
- Other Adult Relationships | Young person receives support from three or more nonparent adults.
- Community Values Youth | Young person perceives that adults in the community value youth.
- Youth Programs | Young person spends three or more hours per week in sports, clubs, or organizations at school and/or in community organizations
- Reading for Pleasure | Young person reads for pleasure three or more hours per week.
- Interpersonal Competence | Young person has empathy, sensitivity, and friendship skills.
- Cultural Competence | Young person has knowledge of and comfort with people of different cultural/racial/ethnic backgrounds.
Libraries with teen volunteer programs and that embrace youth participation through advisory boards can build even more assets. There is nothing better that you can do for your library and your patrons than to work with teens to create programs and let them take leadership roles if you can.
I hope the next time you come up with a program idea a little outside the box, or better yet your teens suggest one to you, you can think through these ideas and find a way to explain why doing that program matters.