Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

In Our Mailbox: How to resurrect a long dead TAG?

Many of us have had this problem at one point or another. Having a TAG (or TAB, or YAAC, or Teen Council – whatever you want to call it) is drummed into our heads as The Thing to do in order to get teen input on library services.  But sometimes they fizzle, sometimes you burn out, and sometimes there’s an interest, but it’s unfocused and needs some direction.  An established librarian in a new position, here is reader Sarah’s dilemma:

My library at one time had an active and thriving Young Adult Advisory Council, but from what I’m hearing, interest waned, and it sort of died a natural death sometime during the previous (retired) librarian’s tenure. I’ve had some recent inquiries by teens interested in joining it (they never took the information about it off the website) and my director is definitely interested in resurrecting it, but is leaving the details up to me. I was hoping to get the benefit of your experience working with teens and see if you had any ideas or suggestions?

I have a great group of summer teen volunteers that I’m hoping to interest in being part of the YAAC once school starts back, but I don’t want it to be just a “show up, eat pizza, gripe about school and life, go home” social club. I am toying with the idea of setting it up as simultaneously a Harry Potter Alliance chapter, because I love their focus on citizenship and doing good in the community and the world if I can get my director to go for it.

Sarah, I think you’re actually in a great position here to start something wonderful and cool.  Here’s what you have going for you:

You’re new in your position 

Everyone expects new employees to shake things up a bit. You can use this more pronounced flexibility to either try out something new and radical, or revitalize what used to be there with your own spin.

Your administration supports you

Holy cow – how great is this?! You’ve been given the go-ahead to deal with the details. I’m going to assume that this go-ahead comes hand in hand with the full support, understanding, and dare we hope funding of your director.

You’ve got kids who are interested already, and more you can tap

This is so key, especially when starting up a program that will rely heavily on teen leadership and participation. You can easily take a chance on whether or not kids will come to a one-off holiday program, but starting up a TAB or other ongoing program, you really need an interest base if it’s going to take off. You already know you have an interest base, and you have all of those SRP volunteers that you can invite too. They’ve demonstrated an interest in and dedication to the library, and hopefully a track record of showing up when they say they will, so you’re totally set.

You have an idea of what they can do and why they’d want to do it.

 Everyone wants teens to have a voice, but not everyone wants to actually listen to them. Everyone wants us to have TABs, but not everyone is able to give teens the kind of autonomy that they need to make that stand for Teen Advisory Board instead of just… Teens Afterschool & Bored. The most successful TABs I’ve ever had a hand in have been groups with a real purpose. There was always time for fun and snacks and an end of  the year party, but these were groups that thrived because they knew their time at the library was well spent: they were there doing something they couldn’t do elsewhere and they wanted to do together. Starting up a Harry Potter Alliance, or a Nerdfighter meetup, or a book reviewing group, or NICU cap knitting circle, or furniture selection committee during renovation, or a technology discussion group — these are reasons for teens to come to the library and keep coming back. I say go for it.
But how to get it off the ground? You asked for suggestions, and here are a few:

Create a link between the club and the mission of the library 

Chances are, whichever task you and your teens choose for the club, the link will be there in the form of a phrase like “lifelong learning” or “serving the needs of the community.” You just need to elucidate that link. 

Find a few moles

Moles, key participants, liaisons — call them what you want, you’ll have better luck if you can get a few kids on your side right off the bat. Let them lead you, trust their ideas, and then let them bring their friends and classmates to you. The buy-in is always better if they know they need you.

Report on your successes … and failures

Be genuine in your reports to the director. If you have the support of admin, consider them allies. Share your excitement with them when you have excellent meetings, and show your vulnerability and disappointment and problem solving skills when things don’t go the way you hoped and you have to change gears. It sounds like you may be a department of one, which can feel like a heavy burden to bear, but remember that this makes you agile. If the path you’re on isn’t working, pivot and change directions. Chances are good the teens will follow.

If you or anyone else in your situation wants more in-depth information on teen leadership and revitalizing TABs, I highly recommend Amy Alessio’s chapter, “Keeping the Teen Advisory Board Relevant—and Real: New Clubs, Themes, and Attitudes” in our new book The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services. Amy has a really great, down to earth approach with her teens, and has been able to reshape and revitalize her teen groups into dynamic, purposeful, popular programs for years now. 

Good luck! Let us know how it goes too!

-Heather 

Sunday Reflections: In our mailbox – How do you talk to teens about issues of consent in light of the Steubenville case?

A reader of TLT e-mailed an and asked:

I am a newly started YA librarian in Houston TX.
Issues of consent have always been important to me, but in the wake of Steubenville it seems like consent is a vital thing I should be talking about with the teens I work with. So I have been looking for resources about YA library programming about consent, and haven’t turned up anything. Since Teen Librarian Toolkit is the first blog I go to (seriously, I love y’all!) I was wondering if you knew of anything along those lines, or if consent in YA librarianship would ever be something TLT would take on?
File this under Things They Didn’t Teach Me in Library School, but how do you incorporate sensitive, informational programming into your library?  I actually have some thoughts on the topic.  (Also, thanks for the awesome compliment.  You made our day!!)
Consent is a huge topic right now in the public discourse, in part because of as you mentioned the Stuebenville case.  It is important that adults talk with teens – both male and female – about what consent is.  In short, consent is giving someone permission.  In this case, it is consent to have sexual relations.When talking about consent it is important for teens to understand a few facts:
1) The law recognizes that certain age groups are unable to give consent at all, typically teens under the age of 16 (though verify this with your local legal counsel)
2) The law recognizes that certain members of society (such as adults) or people in positions of power (like teachers and coaches) can abuse their position of authority to manipulate consent and this is not real or meaningful consent.
3)  People who are passed out, intoxicated, or that have cognitive difficulties also can not give consent.The main thing we need to teach all of our teens about sexual activity is this: YOU AND YOU ALONE ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR ACTIONS.  Someone can not compel you to rape them.  Not with the way they dress, the places they hang out, etc.  The victim is never at fault.

A couple of years ago, I did a program on relationship safety at my library in conjunction with local SANE (Sexual Assualt Examiner Nurser) organization in our hospital.  They have a special education task force that partnered with organizations to talk about domestic violence, rape, etc.  We hosted a series of informational programs that, while important and well done, were not very well attended.  I have always found that teens will come for fun, less so for informational programming, no matter how relevant it is to their lives.  If I were to do it again, I would partner with the schools if possible to get more of a captive audience, making sure that I provided plenty of booklists and booktalks on relevant books and support materials.  Keep in mind that it is a sensitive subject that might make the schools uncomfortable.
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