Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Stepping Through The Screen: Reality TV and Library Programming by Christie G

Everyone who knows me knows that I am an absolute competition reality TV addict.  I love watching competition shows that bring people together from all over, fighting it out to win a specific prize in front of television cameras.  While I am smart enough to know that the contestants for the shows are cast not only for their talents but also for their appearance and demographic profile, I’m willing to suspend my disbelief, delve into the fantasy, and root for a favorite.  Teens are the same way- ask them what they’re watching, and it can be anything from the new season of Survivor to Iron Chef America to Top Chef to The Great Escape.  Some of the most popular programs that I’ve done have tied in reality television with library programming and books within my collection….

Project Runway (Lifetime)
TV Concept:  With a limited budget, in an insanely small amount of time, create an outfit to fit the challenge and wow the expert judges, or be sent home.
Library Program:  Create your own fashion runway within the library, while the tween and teens have fun and challenge their fashion sense.  Connect with the local cosmetology school and see if they would be willing to send some of their graduating students to do hair and/or makeup for the tween/teen models the day of the challenge.  Have tweens/teens sign up to be contestants and their own models, and bring items from home for their challenge outfits.  Use a kicking but clean music background, and after the teens are dressed and prepped, have them walk the runway for their family and friends.  If possible, enlist volunteers to take digital pictures of the teens during hair/makeup prep and at the end like a real fashion show, and have the pictures available for download afterwards on a secure site so participants and their parents have those memories of the event.
Collection Connection:  Fashion books and magazines, how-to-sew books, how to crochet books, jewelry creation books, biographies of fashion designers and models from Coco Channel and Jimmy Choo to Heidi Klum.

See previous TLT TPIB Project Fashion for addition Project Runway inspired program ideas.

Fear Factor (Chiller)
TV Concept:  Contestants go through a variety of increasingly gross, fearsome, and dangerous challenges in order to win the game.
Library Program:  While we don’t want to make anyone sick or cause anyone harm, there are ways to twist this program to fit within the library.  First off, you can use the harmless tricks of a Halloween program for the gross or fear challenges:  take cold, cooked spaghetti noodles and peeled grapes with red food coloring, place them in an enclosed box, and tell the teens they’re something obnoxious, and make them put their hand in for a certain amount of time.  Second, you can do safe but nasty food challenges-  get a brain mold, and take green Jell-O and sink bacon and pimentos in it.  Do a Buddy the Elf round and make Spaghettio’s a la Buddy.  Mix up a baby food shake.  Or if you have access and really want to go for it, you can find chocolate covered grasshoppers and ants- completely edible.  For this type of program, whether it’s food or challenges, make sure to have a permission slip, and have a spot for allergies.
Collection Connection:  extreme sports books and magazines, books on cuisines from different cultures, weird and strange food books, grossology books, Guinness Book of World Records.
Cupcake Wars (Food Network) / Top Chef:  Desserts (Bravo TV)
TV Concept:  In Cupcake Wars, four sets of cupcake bakers compete against each other to have their cupcakes showcased at a superstar event in ever-increasing challenges.  In Top Chef:  Desserts, cheftestants compete in a series of 30 minute and elimination challenges showcasing their cooking skills in order to win the title of Top Chef.
Library Concept:  Partner with a local bakery and other sponsors and get vanilla cupcakes (or cake pops) and a variety of frostings, toppings, fruits and sauces.  Set up tables around the room with individual stations that each have a cupcake, and individual servings of each frosting, topping, and sauce that you have available, along with plastic ware, brushes, and any other decoration supplies that you think the teens might need.  Give the teens a set amount of time to dress up their vanilla cupcake to impress the judges in this cupcake war.  There are endless ways to spin this- ice cream sundaes, cookie sandwiches, dessert pizzas with the cookie crust already cooked, or smoothie concoctions.  See if there is a local culinary school in the area that would be willing to send their pastry chefs or students to be judges.  Again, since this is a food challenge, I recommend having a permission slip signed with allergies listed.
Collection Connection:  cook books and cooking magazines, chef biographies like Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson and No Reservations by Anthony Bourdain.

See previous TLT TPIB Food Fight, based on The Sweetest Thing by Christina Mandelski for more Food Network inspired ideas.

Craft Wars (TLC) / Chopped (Food Network)
TV Concept:  In Craft Wars, crafters are to create a stunning craft using unconventional materials and use of the sponsor’s craft closet in order to win over the expert judges.  In Chopped, chefs are given baskets of ingredients and are tasked to incorporate those ingredients into a beautiful dish for the judges progressing from appetizer through dessert.
Library Concept:  Take simple lunch sacks, and pop in left over crafts materials that you want/need to get rid of- those spare buttons, the odd pipe cleaner, the random sticky foam shapes, withdrawn books or DVDs that are damaged beyond use for the Friends of the Library book sale.  Create your own “sponsor’s craft closet” by setting up a table of glue sticks and bottles, scissors, popsicle sticks, construction paper, and anything else you want the teens to use.  Have the teens open the bags, then give them a certain amount of time to create whatever craft they want to create.  They HAVE to use whatever was in the paper sack in the craft, but they can use anything they want from the supply table. 
Collection Connection:  any and all crafting books and magazines, PS I Made This,  lifestyle magazines, origami books, drawing books, biographies of those in the entertainment and style world like Tori Spelling (host of Craft Wars).
There are so many more that you could do:  Survivor or Amazing Race-style scavenger hunts, Minute to Win It Family Night Games, Ninja Warrior challenges…  the list goes on!  What type of programs do you do in your library, and what type of reality TV programs can you think of that would connect with your teens?


  1. It would be fun do have a bachelor style competition with the prize bachelor being a cut out of a celebrity. I think my middle school girls would do just about anything for one of those.

  2. I think that would be fun! For the bachelor challenge you could tie in some of the fun romance books, The Steampunk Chronicles series by Kady Cross, Jillian Larkin's Flappers series, or Anna Godbersen's historical fiction YA series, and see if the girls would dress in the time period! My teens run more boys than girls (a cultural as well as location thing, I think) but I could totally see it working with a manga character and ninja style challenges, or action figures and physical challenges…


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