Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

TPiB: High School Exam Cram – sure-fire & stone simple

It almost seems too simple, too good to be true – the low maintenance, high attendance program that high school students flock to, that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.  Exam Cram.  Finals Service.  Study Blitz.  Whatever you want to call it, you owe it to yourself to give it a try.

Full disclosure, I didn’t come up with this.  I read about a similar program at a nearby library in the October 2009 issue of VOYA “How to get nearly 1,000 teens into your library in 5 days or less: Finals Week at Hinsdale Public Library” which you can still access through their digital archives.  But over the past three years, it has become one of our mainstay programs, and created significant goodwill in our older teen community.

In a nutshell – we provide space, snacks, sometimes extended hours, sometimes give-aways during the evenings before exam days and teens studying for finals come in droves.  Our first time out, we had so many teens using the library that there were groups huddled together on the floor in the stacks.  At our event last month, every table in the library and as many as would fit in the meeting room were full.

What’s the allure?  How does this work?  It’s a simple and winning combination of providing what high school students need (space, food, understanding) and being ourselves at our best (friendly, helpful, and understanding).  Promotion is minimal – we announce it in our newsletter and post flyers in the library and at the school library.  On occasion we have taken ads out in the school newspapers, but this doesn’t seem as effective as word of mouth.  Exam Cram brings in the teens who are already using our library, and they bring their friends… who often then become regular library users.  It’s amazing to me to see new faces at Exam Cram, and then to see those same faces become familiar over the rest of the school year.  They may not be asking a lot of reference questions.  I may not get many of them to pick up the great new fiction that came in.  But what they’re gaining will serve them well.  They are seeing the library as a useful, welcoming place that is not just accepting of them, but happy that they are here!

How to do it on the cheap:

  • Open your meeting room and put out tables and chairs
  • Pop some popcorn
  • Make some lemonade
  • Put up signs
  • Wear your best smile

If you have some extra money:

  • Spring for a mix of junk & healthy snacks like chips, cookies, fresh fruit & veggies, trail mix and string cheese – some of these kids don’t go home for dinner, so protein is important!
  • Get soda and bottles of water (I always go through twice as many water bottles as any specific type of soda)
  • Bring in coffee, or set up a hot water station with hot-cocoa and mix-ins

If you’ve got some staff buy-in:

  • Stay open an hour later.  This only works if you have enough staff to sufficiently monitor, you feel that teens will be safe leaving the library later, and it complies with local curfew ordinances.  Treat it as a lock-in: once they’ve left, they can’t re-enter; no one can come after the library has closed; only students with valid high school IDs may stay.

Go all-out:

  • Book an additional room and set up a gaming study break center.
  • Get your logo or your teen web site printed on highlighters, water bottles, post-it flags, stress balls, or cool pens to hand out.
  • Bring tutors in to be on hand to answer tricky questions, or contact teachers and invite them to host study sessions at set times.

Make the most of it:
This will likely be the highest concentration of high school students in your library all at one time.  Do you have a few burning questions you need answered?

  • Post a poll on the wall and ask them to add their response.  
  • Set up a computer with a quick five question survey, and hand out a candy bar or a give-away item as a thank-you, or enter them in a raffle.  
  • Ask them to sign in with their year and school so you know who your population is.  
  • Provide a study-break service opportunity.  This year, I set out origami and scrapbook paper and invited the teens to make snowflakes for the Sandy Hook PTA, who has requested this donation.
  • Get them to vote on your Summer Reading theme, or name their favorite book or genre, or the best thing about the library.  Psst – your Board of Trustees will love the last one!

It’s a great way to reach teens that are too busy to attend your programs or even too busy to come in and browse for recreational reading.  These are teens who need the library too – and can become some of your greatest champions.  If you’re not convinced yet, let me leave you with this: as long as the food is in a supervised area, I have never had a single problem, and every.single.teen over the past three years has thanked me when they left, sometimes profusely.  What more could you ask for?