Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

TPiB: Self Directed Displays for the Last Minute

We all have the best of intentions for our libraries and the most creative ideas. We’ve scoured the internet and pinterest, culled and shared ideas through listservs and friends, and made plans to do the most AMAZING things. And then that thing known as life smacks you upside the head and laughs and says, “HAHAHAHAHAHA, WRONG!” It could be that someone calls in sick, it could be that someone higher up needs something immediately, it could be that another section of the library got your funding, it could be that something in your personal life just explodes- it doesn’t matter why or how, but now your huge plans for a program CANNOT be pulled off.

So what do you do? You NEED something for the idea, you HAVE to have the statistics to recognize the work, and you WANT to have something there for the teens. Right?

We’ve got an answer: Self Directed Displays.

I know, you’re thinking:

Self-directed is what we at Teen Librarian Toolbox call what is typically called passive programming. The reason we call it self-directed is because passive programming actually has a negative connotation in managerial and adminstrative speak. If it’s passive, then they think that there wasn’t any work involved in the planning and implementation of the program. We all know that that is NOT true. What we’ve been trying to say for years is that this type of program is not staff directed (i.e. there is not a staff person to lead/guide/present). Therefore, if it’s not staff directed it’s a self directed program. 

And the easiest type of these are displays!

For a basic display (best for advertising upcoming new programs like Lego Clubs, Star Wars Reads Day, Halloween Festivals, Teen Nights, etc), you need:

  • an idea or theme
  • some type of container with at least one clear side
  • things to put in it
  • a flyer/poster to explain what you’re doing
  • a dedicated space for the time you want the display
For a contest display (even better to launch new programs, or to celebrate event weeks like Banned Books Week, Teen Read Week, new technology coming to the system), you would need to add in:
  • a form for entries
  • golf pencils
  • a dedicated place for entries to go (whether that would be turning them in to a certain area or a separate container)
  • a prize or two (which can be as little or as much as you like, be it waiving fines off the winner’s card, or an extra computer turn, or a free book, or donations from local vendors, or what’s in the container)
Containers can be as simple as something that you have at home. Karen has the idea of using those huge containers you can get from animal crackers or pretzels, but my staff get the flying heebie-jeebies when inanimate objects stare at them (I don’t know why, I like the googly eyes on my monitor, but then again, I like my staff happy). Since we’re at the end of our fiscal year, I’m going to plastic rice jars from home:
At the start of next fiscal year, I have plans to purchase some shadow box frames as well as hinged glass jars so that we have more options.

As for IDEAS, I have a running list. The ones that are coming up in the next month or so:
  • I’ve gotten beat-up copies of Captain Underpants from area garage sales, and am going to shred them and place them in a jar for Banned Books Week next week. According to the ALA, the series was the most challenged series for 2012. I’m including parts of the cover, and tweens and teens will have to guess what the book is in the jar. Of those that guess correctly, I’ll draw winners and they’ll get copies of the book as well as other freebie prizes that I have in my office.
  • We are celebrating Star Wars Reads Day 2 at my library, so I’m going to have a frame showing off buttons that we’ve gotten advertising the new Jedi Academy series, as well as a jar stuffed with origami yodas. Winners will get prizes that were left over from the swag box we got last year.
  • Teen Read Week is October 13-19 with the theme Seek the Unknown and I’m hoping that I can get some really weird alien candy or alien shaped toys to pop into jars. Being in Texas we never know what the weather is going to be, and the AC turns off when the library is not open- anything chocolate in those containers is going to melt (not to mention the staff will eat it), so I’m looking for inferior but less temperature-sensitive forms of candy. 
  • Halloween is always huge at my library, including a community festival in conjunction with the Parks and Recreation department in our shared building. We dress up, have games and crafts, and have a special day set aside for the festival. I think this calls for guessing how much candy corn or how many pumpkins are in the jar.
  • We recently got funding for the FY2014 year to start Makerspaces with Legos and Raspberry Pis. Advertising the start of a Lego Club by showing off the Legos in the containers, or making it a contest by guessing how MANY Legos are in the container, with the prize being the tween/teen who wins gets to set the theme for the first Lego program.
  • Advertising our new upcoming upgraded reservation system by taking an old computer keyboard and popping off the keys, and intermixing those with the old computer reservation slips, and a sign explaining what exactly it is.
  • Colorful fake leaves in a jar on display with a sign reminding people that we’re going to be closed for Thanksgiving. Turning into a contest, you could ask people to research and discover WHEN Thanksgiving became an official holiday, and cite their source.
  • My teens are extremely excited for November and December to come for the new movie releases. Thor: Dark World, Catching Fire, and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug are only some of the ones that they are excited about. I can absolutely turn their excitement into programming stats by taking my self directed displays and getting something to go in them so they’re guessing or signing up for text messaging or email notifications of programs.
What ideas for self directed displays and contests/programs can you think of? Share in the comments below!


  1. Our YA section is *tiny* and there's barely any room for displays, but we do have some tree decals on our one blank wall. This October I put out multi-colored die cut leaves, a box with a slit at the top, and a poster telling teens to write the name of their favorite book they read this year (and sign it if they like) and put it in the box, and I'll tape it to the wall on our “Teen Reading Tree”. I got my teen advisory kids and staff members who read YA to fill out the first bunch of leaves so it didn't start out looking too bare, and every few days I empty the box and tape the new leaves to our tree!

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