Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Helping to Normalize Wearing Masks with Tweens and Teens During a Global Pandemic, with fun programming ideas!

The Teen, Riley Jensen, wearing a face mask

We are now months into this global pandemic and the science seems to be clear: wearing a mask can help decrease the spread of transmission of Covid-19 and we should be wearing masks out in public to help protect one another. Unfortunately, there is a lot of messaging out there that is putting people at risk by indicating that masks are a freedom issue (even though you are required by law to wear a shirt and shoes into a public building for public health reasons) or that the virus itself is a hoax. But the science is clear: wearing a face mask can help slow the community spread of Covid-19.

Masks, even cloth masks, retain the biggest droplets and those nasty medium sized droplets. Only the small droplets that aren’t very infectious can get through. When an infected person wears a mask, and remember that you are most infectious before you even start to feel sick, the total volume of virus floating around in the air that we share is dramatically reduced. Because 80% of infections come from droplets floating around in the air, the simple act of wearing a mask is enough to stop the pandemic spread. How I wish we had known that in March.

This is from one of the better arguments on this topic that discusses the nature of science and how what we know about the virus changes as we learn more. You can read Dr. Malcolm Butler’s entire piece here: https://www.wenatcheeworld.com/news/coronavirus/opinion-dr-malcolm-butler-it-s-the-air-you-share/article_998e2394-b5a1-11ea-b609-27e947f1e3fe.html

And as public libraries open for limited services, whether they should or not is an entirely different question, and schools begin to discuss with some urgency what the next school year will look like, it’s really important that we do what we can to help inform the public about the latest science regarding masks and to help normalize face masks for our tweens and teens. We all have a moral imperative to keep one another safe – and this includes staff and patrons – when faced with a virus that is spread from person to person. This isn’t a personal health matter because we are talking about a deadly virus that transmits from person to person; it’s a public health matter. These are the moments when we as a society have a responsibility to one another. One of the ways that we can help keep each other safe right now is to wear a face mask.

Teen and Collection Development Librarian Karen Jensen wears a face mask

So here are some things we can do to help promote face masks.

One, require face masks in your buildings

I won’t debate here whether or not libraries should be open to the public because each state is at different stages. But if you are opening your building to the public, please require and enforce patrons AND staff wearing face masks. There is a financial cost to this requirement so you should make them available to your staff and have some PPE on hand for patrons who try to come into the building but don’t have their own. If you’re going to be open, you have a responsibility to make face masks available to help keep everyone safe.

Librarian and TLTer Ally Watkins wears a face mask

Two, share information on where to buy or how to make your own face masks

Public libraries everywhere are struggling to find content and ways to stay engaged with patrons during this time, so this is a good way to do that. Use your social media to keep your local community in the know about current science regarding face masks, current laws or mandates regarding face masks, and the availability of face masks. Pushing out information via our webpages and social media is the bare minimum of the information services we should be providing right now as the community information resources during a deadly global pandemic.

TLTer Amanda MacGregor wears a face mask

You can go a step further and take a moment of your virtual programming to demonstrate to your patrons various ways they can make their own face masks. There are many tutorials out there you can share or you can make your own. The Fort Worth Public Library created this tutorial as a part of its virtual programming early in the lockdown phase for its patrons.

Three, provide free masks AND make it a fun program

If you can, make or purchase plain white masks and have them be a grab and go kit with your curbside service. Tweens and teens can color or tie-dye masks at home. I would recommend providing any additional tools they might need with the kits to make this happen, like fabric markers. Be sure to include good instructions as well, such as how they need to wash the face mask after coloring or tie dyeing and at what temperatures.

Amazon sells a pack of 50 reusable white cloth face masks for $30.99

If you have staff or volunteers making face masks you can buy color your own pillow cases and turn them into color your own face masks: https://www.amazon.com/eatsleepdoodle-Butterfly-Pure-Cotton-Pillowcase/dp/B07PHH4Z9M/ref=redir_mobile_desktop?ie=UTF8&aaxitk=mnircwvK5XqgbRI-VD8rvA&hsa_cr_id=8596798370401&ref_=sbx_be_s_sparkle_mcd_asin_0

Scout made these tie dye masks using fabric paint

Though I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before Oriental Trading is selling these in bulk. But you don’t need anything more than a plain face mask to make color your own face mask kits.

TLT RevolTeens contributor Christine Lively wears a mask

There are even instructions out there for no sew face masks:


Or you can cut up and use old t-shirts or pillow cases to make a face mask and introduce the concept of upcycling:


There is more than 1 way to make a face mask:


If you want to get more branded merchandise out into the world, you can have logo printed face masks made and pass those out as well.

TLTer Cindy Crushes Programming contributor Cindy Shutts wears a mask

You’ll also want to search the CDC for handouts that you can include with your face mask kits about how to wear them properly (your mouth AND nose should be covered) and why they can help reduce the infection rate. A simple Google search will also direct you to other examples of signage and flyers that you can adapt for your library.

As information resources for our community, this is our moment. Our communities need us now more than ever to help them get accurate scientific information to keep themselves safe and healthy and to decrease community spread. And if you’re looking for programming ideas anyway, you might as well incorporate masks and make it fun and engaging while keeping your tween and teen patrons safe and healthy.

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