Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Boredom Busters, Brain Builders, and Creativity Connectors for Teens, By Lisa Krok

Like many libraries, we have experienced a scarcity in teens during the pandemic due to different restrictions. As some of these are gradually being lifted, I have been brainstorming ways to keep them engaged as they return. In the before times, we did not have much turnout at planned in-person programs. I suspect this is due to transportation, as the library is not walkable from the local schools. We seemed to get best results in more spontaneous, open-ended programs. If a group came in, we would sometimes throw some popcorn in the microwave, grab some board games and head to  our meeting room that also has a bank of computers off to the side. We have video gaming consoles in there, so between the board/video games and computers, the kids would happily munch their popcorn and hang out. We ended up calling these “Teen Hangouts”.

Pre-pandemic, we had a computer lab with about 20 computers in a relatively tight enclosed space. Obviously that is not a good idea now, so the computers were dispersed in groups of two to four throughout the building. When our library first reopened, we had a small number of computers by appointment on the first floor only. With the teen department being on the third floor, they had no choice but to use those first floor computers, where some adults were sometimes not understanding of their developmental levels, needs, and volume. Something needed to be done to accommodate the teens who were returning and needed to feel welcomed in the midst of restrictions.

Step one was to get some computers placed in a space that was just for teens- obviously the teen department, right? We have designated some computers that have teen priority (during the school day if teens are not there, adults may use). CHECK.

Step two – how to engage these teens so they can just drop in when they are able and have a variety of things to do?

I decided to create a cart that would be like a portable program on wheels that could be used in the teen room or taken to a meeting room to use along with snacks, video gaming, and other activities. I began searching through different types of carts. Typical library book carts from Demco were out, due to flat surfaces and high cost. I wanted something very durable that had tray style shelving so that things wouldn’t slide off. After searching the usual suspects (Amazon, Target, Walmart, etc.), I found just what I was looking for in an unusual place: a restaurant supply store. They had the three shelf, tray style model I wanted in a 36” size to hold an abundance of supplies. It is heavy duty and comes in a variety of colors. The wheels lock so it can stay secure in place or use freely to roll away as a mobile program cart. It was shipped requiring minimal, simple assembly that took less than ten minutes. This is what I chose:

Teen cart

Next step – what goes on it? I wanted a variety of things, and a good stock of art supplies. Fortunately, Target had a great back to school sale with free shipping – BINGO! I ordered what I hope is a year’s supply of crayons, colored pencils, markers, scissors, glue sticks/glue, tape, pencils, erasers, etc. Some are on the cart, and a stash of refills is in the cabinet for later.

Uno was very very popular in the past with our teens, so I purchased more of that and some other card games. Some are fun just for fun, and some are mind stretchers like Brain Yoga.

I also ordered clear plastic pencil boxes, which I used to store the art supplies and the card games. A labelmaker was a must- I wanted things labeled and easily organized. I know, as much as teens can be neat and organized – I kept it simple with clear boxes and labels. All of the items listed above are on the top shelf for ease in finding and returning. Also – hand sanitizer, of course!

The middle shelf contains handheld games like mini Etch-a-Sketch, Rubik’s cube, and activities like magnetic poetry, and puzzles. The other half of the middle shelf is a funky neon green 4 letter tray. This is dually purposed for both art and writing. There is plain paper, lined paper, blank comic panels, and coloring sheets. Again, everything is clearly labeled to find and return.

The bottom shelf was the easy part – an assortment of board games including classics like chess, dominoes, and Clue to Giant Uno, Star Wars Battleship, and more. We have more games in the cabinet that I plan to swap out periodically to keep things interesting.

With things changing rapidly regarding the pandemic, we will likely keep this cart as a passive-only program for now and not do the spontaneous groups with the video gaming and snacks, etc. added in. When things are safer, we can resume group programs. Because I am a librarian, of course I put the cart next to a book display- if you build it, they will come, right? I found these great posters of authors from a broad spectrum of demographics and printed and laminated them to place on the wall, then pulled books from those authors. I found the posters on The Dimpled Teacher’s website at https://sites.google.com/view/thedimpledteacher/class-decor . She is fabulous about sharing good free materials.

Lisa Krok, MLIS, MEd, is the Adult and Teen Services Manager at Morley Library and a former teacher in Cleveland, Ohio. She is the author of Novels in Verse for Teens: A Guidebook with Activities for Teachers and Librarians (ABC-CLIO). She reviews YA for School Library Journal, is a regular blogger for TLT, and her passion is reaching marginalized teens and reluctant readers through young adult literature. Lisa has served on both the Best Fiction for Young Adults and Quick Picks for Reluctant Reader’s teams. She can be found being bookish and political on Twitter @readonthebeach

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