Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

To My Second Family, a letter from a teen volunteer

I spoke earlier about my library’s teen volunteer program (read about it here).  It’s one thing for me to tell you how awesome it is (and it is), but what if I let a teen volunteer tell you how awesome it is.  You see, earlier this week our teen volunteer came in and dropped off a letter.  This is only way in which libraries make a difference in the lives of teens.

Dear Second Family,
I would like to start off by saying this: I prefer to write a letter to each and everyone one of you, but since I literally have no time, I think this is a good alternative.  Now that I got that off my chest . . . you guys really are like my second family.  You guys are my fun family.  I come to you guy to be entertained.  I come to you guys because you all make me feel wanted. You make me feel like I’m doing something noticeable that isn’t bad.  And I just wanna say thank you.  Thank you for being great people.  Thank you for allowing me to be your volunteer. I actually learned something from each one of you that will stay with me for the rest of my life.  I hope I’m not the only life you guys have touched. You guys are wonderful.
Then it is signed by this amazing teen volunteer, but I am withholding his name for privacy issues.  I can tell you that he has been a teen volunteer for several summers in a row now and that this summer he logged in over 90 hours working with younger children and library staff to promote reading and more.  We could not do it without volunteers like him . . .
My favorite part of the letter, however, is this:

Here are some of the 40 Developmental Assets that Teen Volunteer Programs help meet:
Other Adult Relationships | Young person receives support from three or more nonparent adults.
Community Values Youth | Young person perceives that adults in the community value youth.
Youth as Resources | Young people are given useful roles in the community.
Service to Others | Young person serves in the community one hour or more per week.
Adult Role Models | Parent(s) and other adults model positive, responsible behavior.
High Expectations | Both parent(s) and teachers encourage the young person to do well.
Youth Programs | Young person spends three or more hours per week in sports, clubs, or organizations at school and/or in community organizations
Caring | Young Person places high value on helping other people.
Sense of Purpose | Young person reports that “my life has a purpose.”

Is There Power in the Message? Putting positive images of teens in the press

Teens often get a bad rap.  Especially in libraries.  Especially with non-teen services staff.  Right now in your head you are thinking of the one or two members on your staff who hate when the clock strikes 3:30 and the teens comes bustling in through the front doors.  Some of them carry skateboards.  Some of them are giggling, talking loud.  Almost all of them are travelling in some type of pack.  And those certain staff members – they are waiting to pounce.  You see them coiled and ready to launch their attack the first moment that opens.

Then you open the newspaper and see about the fights, the drugs, the robberies, the teenage pregnancies.  I’m not going to lie, all of that is a concern . . . BUT

Last night I watched 5 teenage girls who had given up years of their lives to train earn an amazing victory.  Swimmer Missy Franklin, 17 years old, turned down endorsement deals so she could stay at home and swim with her high school team.  Michael Phelps began his world record accumulation of Olympic medals as a teenager.
There are teenagers who have started organizations to help the sick, poor and needy.  There are teenagers that go on mission trips.  There are teenagers doing amazing things every day to help make this world a better place.  So maybe sometimes we could focus on them.
As someone who works with teens, I have watched the Olympics and thought time and time again – these are the stories we should be talking about.  What if our headlines focused on local heroes every day instead of local crimes?  Maybe then teens would strive for positive attention instead of negative attention.  One of the things I keep reading in the coverage of the Aurora shootings is a call from readers not to use the alleged shooters name or picture, not to give him fame for what he has done.  To, in fact, make him he who shall not be named and take away his power.
I can’t pretend to understand the psychology of criminal behavior.  But I watch a lot (and I mean A LOT) of Criminal Minds and it seems that the goal, the pathology, of some criminal behavior is to get attention, fame.  And as parents we often hear about children who engage in negative attention seeking behaviors because as they often say “any attention is better than no attention”. 
So let’s take away the negative attention! And honestly, I think this is a good 40 Developmental Assets approach.  Decide as a teen services librarian that you are going to focus on the positive and give your teens positive goals to reach.
Here are some ways that I think you can do this:
Create a place in your teen area where you can display teen created artwork, poetry, and more. See Putting the “Teen” in Your Teen Space.
Create a local community bulletin board in your teen area and post newspaper clippings of your teens positive accomplishments.
Work with local businesses to provide rewards for A/B students.  Maybe have lock-ins and pizza parties.  Or, your library could forgive fines for students that show their report card during a certain time period.  (Unblocked cards leads to an increase in circulation).
Create opportunities for teen created programming. See Teens Got Talent
Share with your teens via your social media those stories you encounter in the press about teens doing well, such as Olympics news coverage or those stories about teens that start businesses to help their local communities.  See The Big Help, Friends for Change, Mobilize, VolunTEEN Nation and more.
When we help our staff, our communities and our teens focus on the positive, we send a powerful message about teens.  We give them new goals to strive for.  We empower them and give them a voice. 

What other ideas do you have for spreading the positive message of teens?  And what resources or campaigns do you know of that are encourage teens to be actively engaged in positive ways in their communities? I’m always looking for new resources to share.

Wild Child Conference 2011: Asset Building

Every year in September in Marion, Ohio there is a conference known as The Wild Child Conference. The goal of this conference is to keep educators and organizations that work with teens in the know about teen life, culture, and the topics that impact their lives. For the third year in a row, I have the honor of being a part of the board of the Wild Child Conference. The 2011 WCC looked at addiction in the lives of teens.  Here, Jodi Galloway, a licensed social worker and coordinator for the local anti-drug education program, discusses how she uses the 40 Developmental Assets as a means of empowering teens and decreasing at risk behavior.

Information about the 2012 Wild Child Conference

Jodi Galloway, licensed social worker, uses the 40 Developmental Assets from the Search Institute to build assets and help curb risk seeking behavior http://www.search-institute.org/assets (introduced in 1989, started out as 30 assets now 40)


The 40 Assets is a model of PREVENTION
What kids are doing well in life? What do they have that is making them be successful?


We need to hear about teenagers doing good! We hear about bad teenagers. We need to hear about the ones who are doing well – there are more doing well than not.


Adults have to remember what it was like to be an adolescent. Things are very different, but they are the same.


Ways Asset Building is different

  • Problem centered approach vs Asset building approach
  • Grounded in research and proven in programming
  • The more assets a teen has, the less likely they are to engage in risky behaviors
  • The more assets a teen has, the more likely they are to be engaged in positive behaviors


Internal and External Assets
External – community around them including family and school
Internal – inside self


Complete list of 40 assets http://www.search-institute.org/content/40-developmental-assets-adolescents-ages-12-18


Look at your community: Is every headline in the newspaper focusing on teens doing negative behaviors?  It isn’t just about having something for them, but about them giving back.

Empowerment is that sense of feeling valued and important

Empowerment includes: 

1) Boundaries and Expectations – Family, School, Community
“Our school has a dress code but nobody enforces it”

Kids need positive role models and high expectations


2) Constructive use of time: libraries can help with this
Creative activities, programs, reading (but they still need hang out time)


3) Commitment to learning
They must be motivated to do well. Not all kids work well in school, it can be a different type of environment.


4) Positive Values
Teens need to see positive values being lived out so that they can internalize them and incorporate them into how they live their life.


5) Social Competencies
Isolated teens are less likely to do well.


6) Positive identity
How teens view themselves, the world, and their place in the world; have a sense of purpose

You can help teens be empowered by being an asset focused individual, organization and community – and by engagin in daily asset building activities.

Daily Asset Building Activities:

  • Smile at young people
  • Ask people about themselves and listen
  • Notice when they are doing something right and encourage them to continue
  • Involve youth in leadership and program planning
  • Compliment young people
  • Talk about how to have a positive outlook when life gets difficult
  • Ask young people about their talents and abilities. help them identify and strengthen them.
  • Ask young people to tell you about a good book they’ve read recently.
  • Train volunteers leaders and coaches in asset building.
  • Attend a school function for a young person such as a play performance, game, recital, etc.
  • Discuss how community and world events can influence a person’s outlook of the future.
  • Reward asset-building activities.
  • Sponsor neighborhood activities, get-togethers.
  • Plan parent/teen nights

Volunteens at my library

Since today we have a guest post from the VolunTEEN Nation, I thought I would take a moment to tell you about my teen volunteer program and why I think every library should have one.
Hooray for teen volunteers!

I did not create my teen volunteer program, I inherited it – but I love it.

In the past, I have had a teen advisory group and like a lot (though not all) of librarians, I struggled with getting teens to come to meetings, follow through on ideas and yes – show up for the very programs that they said they wanted to have.  Depending on the time and library, we have created newsletters, done programming or just sat around and looked at each other and come up with really great ideas that nobody wanted to take the time to actually implement because sometimes, the very teens who sign up to be on teen advisory boards are signed up to do a million other things that look good on their college applications and their heart isn’t always in it.  Please note, that is never true of all of the teens – just some of them some of the time.

Fast forward to last year when I came to the Betty Warmack Branch Library (in Texas) and inherited a teen volunteer program.  I love everything about this volunteer program because it is definitely very pro the 40 developmental assets, it is perfect for the teens in THIS community (more on that in a moment), and I still get to build relationships with and interact with a regular group of teens but in a way that allows them to be flexible with their own schedule.

The primary mission of the teen volunteers during the summer is to man our Summer Reading table.  I take my teens and set up a weekly schedule with two hour shift blocks.  They sign up for a weekly day and time and agree to work that schedule every day for 8 weeks, with exceptions of course for vacations and camp, etc.  I feel that this works best for everyone, having a set schedule, becuase it is easier for the teens to remember when they should show up and it’s easier for me.

BWBL has been doing their SRC for a while now and it is well organized.  Every morning I make sure the multi-drawer cart is full and wheel it on over to the sign up station that is manned by the teens.  There are 2 teens (sometimes 3) at each shift.  Here they sign up kids, receive completed reading logs and hand out prizes.  This allows the teens the opportunity to build social skills and interact with younger children, and it allows our younger children to see teens being a positive force in the community.  And as an added bonus, this frees up our circulation staff to continue providing speedy, efficient customer service during the summer without taking on the added business of SRC.  There are key times when this is so incredibly helpful, like on kick-off and program days.

Throughout the year some of my teen volunteers stay on and I find things for them to do, such as photocopying forms and checking awards lists when they come out so I can see if the library owns what we want it to.

Hey volunteers – tell me your favorite teen reads!

Because I work at a system with very little money, and the city manager has declared that no food is allowed at city functions because we can’t use tax money for it, I am in the process of collecting ARCs to hand out as a thank you to my teen volunteers at the end of the SRC.  To date, I have 54 active volunteers and I receive a new application almost every day.  Scheduling is sometimes a nightmare, but on the whole my first summer is going well.

This is the perfect teen program for the library and community that I am in.  Here, we have very education focused teens that don’t have a lot of free time because of the number of extracurricular activities they are involved in (some of my teens are involved in upwards of around 10 activities and organizations).  I have teen volunteers who are doing a variety of clubs, sports, and volunteering at other organizations.  These teens are trying to get volunteer hours for things like Avid and the National Honor Society, and they need a lot of hours.  Having regular programming has proven to be difficult here because there are very few hours that work well for the teens, but having a volunteer program allows them to interact with the library on a regular basis according to their personal schedules.  We get some of the same advantages of programming – teens are developing a relationship with their library – but in a way that works best for the teens in THIS community.

When I came to BWBL I tweaked the teen volunteer program just a little and made it a requirement that the volunteers had to meet with me on a quarterly basis so that we can touch base and they become a de facto teen advisory board.  I get feedback about the volunteer program as a whole, pick their brains about upcoming programming ideas, and then we talk books.  That is, of course, my favorite part.  In fact, almost always when I see my teen volunteers I find a way to get a book in their hands.  One teen volunteer recently read and loved Human.4 by Mike A. Lancaster.  Another was reading Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick, one of many I got her to check out one day.  I noticed the other day that one of my teens is reading Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler and she picked that up all by herself, I asked her to tell me what she thought of it when she’s done (I haven’t read it yet). She thought it was fun to learn, however, that he was THE Lemony Snicket (I love it when I get cool bonus points). It’s fun, and informative, to hear what they think about the books they are reading.

So here is the basics of having a teen volunteer program:

1. Be sure to have a clearly outlined application in place.  We have both a city form and a library “covenant”.  The city form outlines the rules set forth by the city and the convenant outlines the guidelines specific to our library facility.  It includes things like you can’t wear open toed shoes and no texting while you are “on the clock”.  Make sure you have clearly outlined expectations for both staff and your teen volunteers.

2.  Get an e-mail address and make this your primary means of communicating with your teens.  It’s easier to e-mail 54 teens than to try and call them all.

3.  Have a periodic training meeting so that teen volunteers can get to know one another, you can make sure everything is running smoothly and everyone is happy, etc.  For our SRC training meeting we even did some role playing asking the teens questions we knew the public was likely to ask like, “Does it have to be a library book?” (The answer to that question, by the way, is no. Although we obviously like it if it is.)

4.  In order to keep the program running smooth, have 1 primary contact person and 1 alternate contact person from library staff.  I have a back up in case a teen calls off on a day or time that I am not there.  Having a primary contact helps minimize confusion, miscommunication and mixed messages.  Also, it allows for teens to build those meaningful relationships with library staff that are so essential to the 40 developmental assets.

5.  Make sure you have clearly outlined staff expectations.  A biggy for me is that I want them to come to me with any problems or concerns and then let me talk to the teens about it.  As I am sure you are aware, some staff are better at dealing with and interacting with teens than others and I want to minimize any potential negative interactions.  Flagrant and immediate issues would of course require staff to intervene ASAP, but other issues can wait for your teen services librarian to handle.

I love my teen volunteer program – and my teen volunteers – and I highly recommend the program.  And I have to be honest, 19 years of being a teen services librarian, I think this is one of the best ways ever I have seen a library handle the madness that is SRC. 

Take a moment in the comments and tell me if you have a teen volunteer program and what you love – or loathe – about it.

Here is an look at my training outline for staff and teen volunteers:

Objectives of the Program:

As part of our service to teens, Betty Warmack Branch Library provides teens the opportunity to earn community service hours through volunteer work. Allowing teens the opportunity to volunteer is mutually beneficial to the teen, the community and BWBL. Volunteering gives teens the opportunity to acquire a number of the 40 Developmental Assets (www.search-institute.org), which research has demonstrated helps prevent teens from engaging in high risk behaviors. In addition, teen volunteers help the library accomplish a lot of basic tasks and engage in successful library programming.

Application Process:

Teens ages 13 – 17 can sign up to volunteer at the Betty Warmack Branch Library by filling out the appropriate form as mandated by the city of Grand Prairie. The form requires teens to consent to adhere to the library’s confidentiality standards and waive liability. A parent must also sign in order for an application to be valid.

Persons over the age of 18 who wish to volunteer should see Jeanne Murdock who coordinates the adult volunteers.

By signing the form, teens affirm that:

• They will follow all policies, rules and procedures of the City of Grand Prairie and the GP library system

• Not to consume, use, possess or be under the influence of drugs or alcohol

• Represent the City of Grand Prairie in a professional manner

In addition, they covenant with BWBL to

• Dress in a clean, presentable manner

• Arrange volunteer hours in advance with the children’s/youth service librarian

• Arrive promptly or call in advance to reschedule

When handing out teen volunteer applications, please ask teens to complete both sides and write legibly. If at all possible encourage teens to provide an e-mail address as that will be our primary means of communication. If the teen does not have an e-mail address, ask the parent if they would be willing to provide an e-mail address. Please let teens know that it may take up to 2 weeks to receive an initial contact after completing their application.

The Volunteen Commitment:

As part of their teen volunteer service, I will be requesting that we meet as a group quarterly to reward teens for their service, touch base, and make sure and keep the lines of communication open. Teens wanting to volunteer must be open to being a part of these quarterly meetings should their schedule permit.

As Volunteens our teen volunteers will be asked to:

Assist in children’s and teen programming

Review books for the BWBL Facebook page

Make copies of flyers

Cut scrap paper

Sharpen pencils

And other duties that may arise throughout the year

Signing In and Recording Hours:

The Youth Services librarian will take primary responsibility for monitor hours, maintaining contact and signing any paperwork needed for schools or organizations to receive community service credit; however, teens may sign in and report for volunteer time at all times and I will endeavor to make sure all staff are aware that said teen is coming and making sure there are clear instructions for said teen to complete their assigned task successfully.

Upon arrival Volunteens should sign in to the Teen Volunteer notebook (stored in the bottom right hand drawer of Karen Jensen’s desk should I forget to take it out when a teen is coming in). Teens should also sign out to accurately reflect the number of hours volunteered.

Teen volunteers who fail to show up for their pre-set volunteer hours without calling and notifying staff will be terminated after a second offense.

Cell Phone Use:

While signed in for volunteer hours, teens need to turn cell phones off or set them on vibrate. Also, texting is not permitted while signed in for volunteer hours. While signed in for volunteer hours we need teens to be focused on successfully completing their tasks and professionally engaging with patrons if the task permits. If a parent needs to contact a teen in the case of an emergency, they may call the front desk.

Dress and Shoes:

As noted about, teen volunteers should dress in a clean, presentable manner. In addition, no open toed shoes are permitted during volunteer service.

Reporting an Issue:

Should an issue arise with any teen volunteer, please contact Karen Jensen immediately. If it is not a grievous issue, such as alcohol/drug abuse or behavior that grossly violates our code of conduct, I will first work on coaching the teen volunteer to help correct the issue. If the issue occurs subsequent that coaching, the contract signed by the teen allows BWBL to terminate the relationship at any time and we will do so.

Teens may also feel free to contact Karen Jensen in the event that they have issues they would like to have addressed regarding any element of the program.

A Final Note:

Be sure you give our teen volunteers thanks whenever you see them engaged in their service here at BWBL. This is a great opportunity to encourage teens into successful adults and build good pr for the library.

Cut Through the Static, Get Feedback

You have heard me say it time and time again but my mantra is simple: you can’t serve teens unless you care about them, know them, and value them.  And if you are really good at your job, you will empower them and help give them a voice. (Think 40 Developmental Assets!)  One of the best ways to do that is to get their input.  You can do this through Teen Advisory Boards, no doubt.  But I believe there is tremendous value in doing a large scale, once a year survey to get large scale feedback.

Move teens from thinking of it as “the library” to “my library

The truth is, TAB attract a certain type of teen and they tend to be limited in scope because you have to limit their numbers for them to function effectively.  With TABs, you don’t always get the input of your outliers.  So at the end of every summer or the beginning of the school year, I like to put together a large scale survey.

Your goals as a teen librarian: Help your teens find their voice, empower them

I get that a survey is not a perfect tool.  But the truth is any tool is better than no tool.  And in your best case scenario, you use a variety of tools.  So ideally you would have a TAB, engage your teens on a daily basis, do mini-surveys on your social media sites, etc.  But don’t underestimate the value of a large scale survey.

Some of the benefits of a survey include:

  • It gives you large scale feedback from a wider sample of your target demographic
  • It gives you good feedback to make decisions and discuss the decisions in terms that make sense to administrators.  Remember, numbers matter to admin.
  • It gives you feedback to share with your community and community agencies that work with teens.
  • It gives you valuable teen quotes to share in all your various PR forums.
  • It gives your teens a voice and empowers them.

So, how do you do a survey?

1.  Outline the type of feedback that you need to be successful at your job: collection development, programming types, hours, days, etc., TSRC prizes and format and more.

2.  Formulate a template (one is provided below).  Make sure on your format that you have a way to get both statistical data and verbal feedback.  Ask open ended questions as well as your basic rate this types of questions.

3.  After you put your survey together, find a way that works well for your system to distribute it.  If you have a good relationship with your schools, you can ask the schools to help distribute it.  Put them in your teen area and share them through your various online resources.

4.  Give yourself a good time window to get surveys back – but put a finite end date on it.

5.  Remember that anonymity helps ensure that you get more honest feedback.  Although I will be honest, I have also provided incentives for filling them out and it resulted in a higher return rate.  Depending on the budget of your system, you can hand out $5.00 food gift certificates to teens who return their completed surveys to the circulation desk and let them put it directly into an envelope to help make sure their are no faces associated with comments.

6.  Compile your data and run with it.

Sample Survey 

Teen Summer Reading Club

Did you participate in the 2012 Teen Summer Reading Club?     Yes     No

If yes, what is your overall grade for the club?   (Excellent)  A     B     C     D     F (Poor)

How do you prefer to keep track of your reading?

Number of Books Read                Amount of Time Spent Reading     Other ____________

What types of activities would you like to see included in future Teen Summer Reading Clubs?

What did you think of the prizes?         (Excellent)  A     B     C     D     F (Poor)

What types of prizes would you like to see in the future?

Comments about the Teen Summer Reading Club:

Teen Programs

Did you attend any of the teen programs in the last year?     Yes     No

If yes, what did you think of the programs?         (Excellent)  A     B     C     D     F (Poor)

What type of library programs are you interested in?

Crafts   Trivia   Games   Speakers   Book Discussion    None     Other ________________

Suggestions for future programs:

What is the best day of the week for you to attend programs?    

Monday     Tuesday     Wednesday     Thursday     Friday

What is the best time of day for you to attend programs?

3-4 PM     4-5 PM     5-6 PM     6-7 PM     7-8 PM

How do you hear about our programs?

Website     Newspaper     School     Friends     In Library     Other  _________________

Teen Contests

Did you participate in any of the teen contests in the last year?     Yes     No

If yes, what did you think of the contests?  (Excellent)  A     B     C     D     F (Poor)

What was your favorite contest from the past year (and why)?

Suggestions for future contests:

The Teen Area

What is your overall grade for the teen area?     (Excellent)  A     B     C     D     F (Poor)

What parts of the teen collection do you use?

Nonfiction                   Never     Monthly     Weekly     Other _______________

General Fiction           Never     Monthly     Weekly     Other _______________

Graphic Novels           Never     Monthly     Weekly     Other _______________

Inspirational Fiction    Never     Monthly     Weekly     Other _______________

Audio Books               Never     Monthly     Weekly     Other _______________

Teen Magazines           Never     Monthly     Weekly     Other _______________

What are your favorite genres? (Circle all that apply)

Realistic Fiction     Historical Fiction     Science Fiction     Inspirational Fiction     Horror

Mysteries     Humorous Fiction     Fantasy     TV/Movie Tie-ins     Graphic Novels     Nonfiction

Things I Never Learned in Library School: Self Directed Porgramming (formerly Contests! Everyone is winning)

Although I now live in Texas, I spent the first 18 years of my teen librarian career in a cold state where everyone hibernates during the months of January and February.  Programming is hard as it is – but add in winter storms and it becomes downright unpredictable. Doing a variety of contests can be a fun way to keep teens involved while catering to the elements, and to the busy schedules of teens.

In the past, I always referred to contests as “passive programming”, which gave it a negative connotation that I despised.  But at a webinar last year (and I’m sorry, I can’t remember what it was), one of the speakers referred to contests as “self-directed programming“.  Genius!  This title, I think, captures the true spirit of why contests work and are valued by teens.  And if you read my previous post about the value of hanging out, you know that teens need and thrive with self-directed opportunities.

When doing a traditional library program, teens have to commit to a certain time and place.  So you have the best Hunger Games program (ever!) planned for Monday night at 7 pm.  But that day the history teacher assigns an entire chapter to read with the promise of a quiz, teens have to do 5 pages of calculus homework and then, to top it all off, 300 inches of snow is predicted.  Suddenly, the 40 teens that signed up to come has translated into 5 teens at your door that evening.  Life happens and there is a lot of competition for teens time and attention.  Contests, however, allow teens the opportunity to participate in the library on a broader timetable.  They also help keep the library out there, actively in the forefront of the teen brain, by having a more continual presence.  And, if done correctly, they allow you to be a strong Web presence, which is so important to the teen audience.

And it shouldn’t be overlooked: Contests have value because they help promote the library and they demonstrate the wide variety of ways that the library can be involved in the lives of teens.  Contests don’t have to be limited to books, they can tap into any part of teen culture and demonstrate what a well rounded information resource the library is.  If you plan them correctly, they also help teens learn how to use the library catalog and various library resources within the library.

Contests are a good supplement to traditional library programming: they keep the library presence out there, they meet the needs of a wider variety of your audience, and they allow teens to explore the library and its resources or express themselves creatively – but on a broader timetable.

In the past, I have done variations of 1 or 2 contests a month.  Like display windows, it is good to have turnover.  By creating a regular, predictable pattern teens know to keep coming and you build a steady audience.  You can do a static contest where teens pick up or print of a contest sheet and fill it out to enter or you can do an ongoing contest where you reveal one part of the contest per day via your library web or social media page. (Check out the previous post Making the Most of Your Teen Services FB Page for more.)  If you follow the TLT on Facebook you know that this week we are doing this type of contest using pictographs of popular classic children’s stories.  This type of contest ensures that you have steady content to share with your teens via their social media page and you meet them where they are most often.

Make a pictogram a day and ask teens to decipher your message via Twitter or FB

Can you name these classic children’s stories?

If you are having a contest, it is good to have prizes (although sometimes the fun can be a prize in and of itself – especially online).  Prizes don’t have to be extravagant: you can put together a movie themed contest and your prize can be a popular dvd, box of popcorn and a 2 liter of soda, for example.  Or you could see if you could get a local business to sponsor you monthly contest (community partnership for the win!) and it could be the Monthly Fluffy Bunny Pizza Contest at Fluffy Bunny Community Library.  (As far as I know I totally just made that up).  Good ole gift certificates and gas cards also work, teens love $5.00 to the Taco Factory and gas is not cheap these days so every little bit helps.  You can also use this as an opportunity to hand out the arcs you receive.

Contests allow you, as a programmer, to be creative.  Think outside the box.  You can create a wide variety of contests including word scrambles, book title scrambles, quotes, and more.  They can be word puzzles or visual puzzles.

Some of my past contests have included:

Visual is good.  And this taps into popular culture and promotes your library magazine collection.

This month long contest promoted a wide variety of library assets.

Using popular games as a model is a good way to generate contest ideas.

You can use Discovery Puzzlemaker to make quick and easy contests.

You can get contest ideas by looking around online.  Also, the American Girl publishers have a variety of puzzle books that provide good inspiration for contest ideas.

Next blog post: A teen drawing contest that allows teens to be creative and provides an opportunity for teen input in your Summer Reading Challenge.

Asset Builder’s Coalition support materials

I was very honored to have an article appear regarding asset building in the October 2011 edition of VOYA (page 354), the Voice of Youth Advocates.  My article was entitled Mpact: An Asset Builder’s Coalition and if you are a regular reader here at TLT you know that I am a big advocate for using the Search Institutes 40 Developmental Assets in program planning and evaluation.  It also provides a good framework for communicating the importance of what you do to your co-workers, administration, and community.  It’s all in the article, read it.  In this post I am going to share with you some of the support materials that didn’t fit into the article.  You’re welcome.

Getting the Word Out
Getting things organized is often the hardest part.  Before you can be a coalition, you need members.  So spend some time getting organized.  Develop your organizations vision, purpose and goals.  Then send out invitations to area organizations that work with youth and ask them to come and share their knowledge and resources.

Text of initial letter sent to community agencies that work with teens:

As the teen services librarian at ____________________, I am invested in helping teens meet their full potential through both educational and recreational information and services.  I would like for those of us in the ______________ community who provide services for teens to come together and share information and resources, and to engage in some joint programming through a group I am calling _____________, the area asset builder’s coalition for youth. 

Our goal, simply stated, will be to Share, Link, Promote.

As a coalition, we will work together to successfully develop a coalition of community partners who value youth, and commit time and resources for initiatives to reduce risky behaviors in teens and provide positive community experiences.  Our goals will be:

  1. To share information regarding individual organizations purpose, goals, and upcoming events.
  2. To share experiences and generate ideas for marketing and promotion, event planning, and resource sharing.
  3. To plan a yearly community event for teens 
Coalition partners will actively attended meetings and work together to form common goals that draw upon the strengths and unique offerings of each of the individual organizations that work in the community with teens.  Partners will also use this as an opportunity to learn about various area resources so they can appropriately refer teens when needs are expressed.  In addition, partners will work together to plan larger community events to provide teens with community based outlets to express their creativity, divest their individual talents and resources and expend their energy in healthy, meaningful ways.  And finally, coalition partners shepherd initiatives that fit with their community involvement and goals.

Our goal is to continue to develop relationships throughout the community in order to expand participation in coalition initiatives and generally encourage support for youth. Each coalition partner will participate in planning and strategies that find opportunities to connect with youth, parents, community leaders, law enforcement personnel, education systems and business owners in _________.

The Framework

Asset building is a framework that helps provide passion, purpose and communication when working with teens.  Your passion and your purpose, to help provide teens with positive assets through your programs and services.  And as you communicate with your co-workers, your administration and your community, you help them see how there is value in what you do, in what the library does in the lives of teens and for the community.  Successful, engaged teens developing positive assets is not only good for teens – it is good for the local community and all of society in the long term (not an exaggeration, the Search Institute has done the research to back up this claim.)

At our first meeting I shared our vision, purpose and goals while explaining the need and benefit for an asset builder’s coalition:

The Model
At our meetings we discussed:

  • What are the assets and how do you use them?
  • Community organization basics:  Define the goals of your organization, basic operating information, who to contact, when to refer. (I really recommend developing a wiki to share this information and allow all participating organizations the opportunity to update and keep it current.  In addition, this is a good way to share a calendar of local events to avoid scheduling conflicts.)
  • Marketing to teens (Our local United Way marketing coordinator was involved and she shared a lot of helpful information.  United Way is really good at marketing.)
  • Social media use with teens
  • What types of past programming has been successful, and why.
  • Basic adolescent development
  • Specifics of our communities, the make up, the challenges, local history and eccentricities


Their is power in networking.  Libraries today, in fact many organizations today, face a shortage of resources including staff, staff time, and money.  Working with community organizations takes an investment in time, but it can reap bigger rewards.  Instead of being one teen librarian working to help youth, you become a network of people working to help youth.  You know the saying, two brains are better than one; by networking you increase your potential through increased knowledge and increased resources.  Plus, there is great benefit to learning what is working well for others and what doesn’t as  this can help influence your decision making.  And as you share upcoming programming schedules, you help eliminate those conflicts that often arise when you set programming dates and times in a bubble.

The challenge is someone must take the first step and be willing to be the organizer.  This takes a tremendous amount of time, energy and commitment.  You have to be enthusiastic and patient; just like programming, you don’t necessarily get immediate interest and success.  You have to make sure there is someone scheduled to present (cross train) at each meeting.  You need an agenda, refreshments, and the ability to keep the conversation going.  But most of all, you have to believe that what you are doing is important; we all fail without vision, but together you can create a common vision for the youth in your community.

Other TLT posts that discuss asset bulding:
Understanding the Wild Child
Don’t Underestimate the Value of “Hanging Out”
Marketing Teen Services to Non Teen Services Staff part 1 and part 2

End Note: Evaluating YOUR Teen Services Program Using the 40 Developmental Assets

We have discussed using the assets to evaluate and communicate your teen services program.  At the end of each year I simply make a quick outline of the assets and make sure what we are doing accomplishes what we say we are doing.  Think of it as creating a yearly plan and then making sure at the end of the year that you met your goals.  Here is an example:

40 Developmental Assets
Through extensive research, Search Institute has identified the following 40 building blocks of healthy development that help young people grow up healthy, caring, and responsible. The _________ Public Library actively helps teens address and meet 27 of the 40 assets listed below, proving that the ___________ Public Library is essential community resource in the life of teenagers in the Marion community.
External Assets:
Support, Empowerment, Boundaries and Expectations, and Constructive Use of Time
1. Family Support-Family life provides high levels of love and support.
2. Positive Family Communication-Young person and her or his parent(s) communicate positively, and young person is willing to seek advice and counsel from parents.
3. Other Adult Relationships-Young person receives support from three or more nonparent adults.
·         Library staff provides positive adult interaction to community teens and help teenagers successfully navigate the library environment. 
·         Teens who regularly attend Teen CoffeeHouse develop a positive relationship with Teen Services Librarian.
·         Through reader’s advisory and informal book discussions, many regular teens develop a positive relationship with Teen Services Librarian.
4. Caring Neighborhood-Young person experiences caring neighbors.Library resources, especially those designed especially for teens, communicate that the library community cares for teens in the community.
5. Caring School Climate-School provides a caring, encouraging environment.
6. Parent Involvement in Schooling-Parent(s) are actively involved in helping young person succeed in school.
7. Community Values Youth-Young person perceives that adults in the community value youth.
·         The library provides a developmentally appropriate teen program that meets a variety of their needs and interests, including a special teen resource collection, which communicates value in the community.
8. Youth as Resources-Young people are given useful roles in the community.
·         Through regular interaction with the Teen Services Librarian, both informal and at programming, teens give input into programming, services and collection.
9. Service to Others-Young person serves in the community one hour or more per week.
10. Safety-Young person feels safe at home, school, and in the neighborhood.
·         The Teen CoffeeHouse provides a developmentally appropriate, enjoyable environment for teens in their neighborhood.
11. Family Boundaries-Family has clear rules and consequences and monitors the young person’s whereabouts.
12. School Boundaries-School provides clear rules and consequences.
13. Neighborhood Boundaries-Neighbors take responsibility for monitoring young people’s behavior.
·         The acceptable behavior policy helps outline responsible behavior for teens in the library.
14. Adult Role Models-Parent(s) and other adults model positive, responsible behavior.
·         All library staff and the Teen Services Librarian directly model positive, responsible behavior to teens in the community.
15. Positive Peer Influence-Young person’s best friends model responsible behavior.
16. High Expectations-Both parent(s) and teachers encourage the young person to do well.
17. Creative Activities-Young person spends three or more hours per week in lessons or practice in music, theater, or other arts.
·         The library’s teen services programs provides a variety of opportunities for teens to be creative, including drawing and poetry contests, etc.
18. Youth Programs-Young person spends three or more hours per week in sports, clubs, or organizations at school and/or in the community.
·         The library’s teen services program provides a variety of programs that provide teens with opportunities to engage in developmentally appropriate programming.
19. Religious Community-Young person spends one or more hours per week in activities in a religious institution.
20. Time at Home-Young person is out with friends “with nothing special to do” two or fewer nights per week.
Internal Assets:
Commitment to Learning, Positive Values, Social Competencies and Positive Identity
21. Achievement Motivation-Young person is motivated to do well in school.
22. School Engagement-Young person is actively engaged in learning.
·         Library has essential resources for teens engaging in learning
23. Homework-Young person reports doing at least one hour of homework every school day.
·         Library resources are beneficial in the successful completion of homework
24. Bonding to School-Young person cares about her or his school.
25. Reading for Pleasure-Young person reads for pleasure three or more hours per week.
·         Library provides an extensive collection for teens reading enjoyment
·         Library provides a variety of programs and events that encourage reading for pleasure
Note about education oriented internal assets below:  The ___________ Public Library provides a variety of resources, both fiction and nonfiction, to help teens explore, develop and enhance these internal assets.  The teen collection, which has developmentally appropriate titles written specifically for teens in a manner that will engage them, is an important part of helping teens in the community address these internal assets.
26. Caring-Young person places high value on helping other people.
27. Equality and Social Justice-Young person places high value on promoting equality and reducing
hunger and poverty.
28. Integrity-Young person acts on convictions and stands up for her or his beliefs.
29. Honesty-Young person “tells the truth even when it is not easy.”
30. Responsibility-Young person accepts and takes personal responsibility.
31. Restraint-Young person believes it is important not to be sexually active or to use alcohol or other drugs.
32. Planning and Decision Making-Young person knows how to plan ahead and make choices.
33. Interpersonal Competence-Young person has empathy, sensitivity, and friendship skills.
34. Cultural Competence-Young person has knowledge of and comfort with people of different cultural/racial/ethnic backgrounds.
35. Resistance Skills-Young person can resist negative peer pressure and dangerous situations.
36. Peaceful Conflict Resolution-Young person seeks to resolve conflict nonviolently.
37. Personal Power-Young person feels he or she has control over “things that happen to me.”
38. Self-Esteem-Young person reports having a high self-esteem.
39. Sense of Purpose-Young person reports that “my life has a purpose.”
40. Positive View of Personal Future-Young person is optimistic about her or his personal future

Special thanks to VOYA for the opportunity to share my passion for teens and asset building.

Don’t Underestimate the Value of “Hanging Out”

Also known as, the value of unstructured versus structured programming!

Necessity is the mother of invention.  It is also how I learned about the power of, and importance of, hanging out in the lives of teens at the library.  The first library I ever worked at was just a few blocks down the street from the middle school.  Every day at 3:20 pm it was flooded with a ton of teens who had just had to sit for 8 hours; they were looking for somewhere to go and something to do, but a library was not an ideal environment.  Thus my first Teen CoffeeHouse was created.  A teen coffeehouse or cafe type program is a more informal type of program that invites teens to come into your library in a safe space and simply “hang”.  This is a more self-directed type of program.  Teens are in the library in a library sponsored program, but they determine how they spend their time in the space.

In comparison, a lot of library programming tends to be more organized and structured:  craft programs, book discussion groups, Harry Potter parties.  Lots of librarians (and their administrators) like these types of programs because they have form, structure and usually some type of obvious literature or collection tie-in.  They also tend to be staff intensive (a lot of staff time is invested in planning, prepping, and marketing), cost more in funds (crafts and speakers in particular tend to cost more), and you can have very mixed results.  The truth is that when you pick a program topic, you are limiting your audience from the word go.  Believe it or not, not everyone likes Harry Potter or Twilight.  So the moment you pick a theme to program around, you are cutting out a portion of your target audience.

Don’t get me wrong, I think that structured programs are important for the library (as you know, I have lots of structured programs in a box right on this blog for you to choose from).  What I propose, however, is that libraries adopt a programming model that balances structured with unstructured programming.  Have a weekly after school cafe and supplement it with one structured program a month (depending on your library space and staff).

In a coffeehouse/cafe type of environment, teens are invited into the library in a designated space (I recommend a meeting room with doors, it can get loud) and given the opportunity to experience the library and each other, but choose how they are going to spend their time within that environment.  I typically have a video game system set up in one area as one option; in addition, a lot of the teens came in and worked on their homework (I always took a laptop in so I could help answer questions), worked on group projects, sat around and talked (or texted), played yu-gi-oh or magic, or – believe it or not – some of the teens actually read (how I will never know, I mentioned it gets loud right?).  In fact, there were almost always 2 or 3 teens in there reading (usually graphic novels and manga).   

The Benefits of Unstructured Programming, aka “Hanging Out”

They Are Developmentally Appropriate
Teens are peer oriented and on an amazing journey of self discovery; at the same time, they are moving away from adult authority and trying to navigate life more on their own.  A cafe type of program is a great environment for teens to do all of these things.  Here teens can explore relationships, navigate social situations in a safe environment, choose for themselves how they want to spend their time, and feel a greater sense of freedom in a safe space.

Let’s look for example to the 40 Developmental Assets.  The premise behind the assets is that the more of these assets that a teen has, the more successful they are likely to be (and the less likely to engage in risky behaviors like drug and alcohol use).

Asset: Community Values Youth | Young person perceives that adults in the community value youth.
Asset: Safety | Young person feels safe at home, school, and in the neighborhood.
Asset: Youth Programs | Young person spends three or more hours per week in sports, clubs, or organizations at school and/or in community organizations.
Asset: Homework | Young person reports doing at least one hour of homework every school day.
Asset: Reading for Pleasure | Young person reads for pleasure three or more hours per week.
Asset: Interpersonal Competence | Young person has empathy, sensitivity, and friendship skills.
Asset: Personal Power | Young person feels he or she has control over “things that happen to me.”
Asset: Other Adult Relationships | Young person receives support from three or more nonparent adults.

As you can see, a coffeehouse/cafe type of program that encourages self-direction in a safe environment helps promote many of the 40 Developmental Assets.  By giving teens choices, you are communicating respect and support.  And this is a great way to build relationships with your teens, which brings me to my next benefit.

They Encourage Relationship, Participation and Feedback
Because I don’t have to spend time giving craft instruction or keep supplies stocked, this type of program allows for greater interaction between the teen services staff and the teens.  Over time you learn who they are and what they love.  They come to serve as a more informal Teen Advisory Group; however, because such a large and diverse crowd attends, you get a wider variety of viewpoints and ideas.  The truth is, that there are certain types of teens that tend to sign up for and participate in advisory groups, and these are often the very teens who needs we are already meeting fairly well in the library.  However, as teens come and hang out at your coffeehouse, you can spend time talking to them.  And as I learned who my readers were, I tapped into them for collection development feedback.  For example, I am not a big graphic novel/manga reader, but a lot of them came to my TCH so I would take my catalogs in with me once a month and they were always more than happy to tell me what I needed to buy (or quit buying).  Eventually teens started coming to me at the TCH and saying they wanted to do x, y, or z for programming.  I also often got the teens to take pictures and develop commercials, etc. for me.  I always took a cart of new books in with me and shared my favorites.  And I always knew which teens I could ask to take fliers to the schools for me.  In effect, as I built relationships with my teens I tapped into their strengths and used it to enhance teen services at my library.

They Get More Bang for Your Buck

The truth is, programming costs money.  And here libraries are facing continuing budget and staff cuts, putting more pressure on staff to decrease costs and yet produce greater results.  And staff time is also money.  Every minute that you spend on researching and developing programs is a cost to the library; plus it takes you away from other tasks.  We are all trying to find ways to better balance our time, money and resources.  Because there is almost no prep time involved in a coffeehouse, you are automatically decreasing your programming budget.  And because you can reach a greater audience, you are increasing your potential audience.  Plus, I have always found that teens love the TCH so much that they market the program for you.  Word of mouth is the most powerful marketing tool you have.

They are a PR Goldmine
Every community is looking for positive things for their teens, so why not let it be at your library?  Keep track of your statistics and put together good pr materials.  Make sure patron, parents and the community as a whole know how many teens you are serving weekly and yearly.  I averaged between 40 to 70 teens a week at a cost of just $1.17 a teen (in snacks).  Yearly I was serving over 2,500 teens at the TCH.  Let your community know about the success of your teen program and how it meets their developmental needs and benefits the community (remember, engaged and valued teens are less likely to do risky behaviors).

They Cultivate a Love of the Library
One of our goals in providing teen programming is to cultivate positive regard for the library, and we do this by creating positive experiences.  Coffeehouses get teens into the library on a regular basis.  They meet the widest variety of needs and attract the widest variety of participants.  They communicate a trust and respect in teens that results in teens having a trust and respect in libraries.  In addition, teens are more likely to start using your library resources and collections as they become repeat visitors, especially if you tap into them and get their feedback.

So, what’s the problem with unstructured programs?
A lot of library administrators are not as supportive of unstructured programming.  They need specific goals and evaluations that show that you met those goals.  They want concrete collection tie-ins.  You can overcome this obstacle by really selling the program.  You do have goals, your goals are to get teens into the library and build relationships with them.  Help staff understand teen development and how this type of programming is essential for healthy adolescent development.

There will occasionally be behavior problems.  As the teens enter and exit the library in large numbers, they do not do so quietly.  And sometimes, some of the teens in the room don’t get along.  Again, it is important for you to continually sell the program to staff: don’t let them focus on the negative but remind them of the overall positive.  Maybe 2 teens got into a fight at the library one day, but 38 others teens came in and had a positive experience.  You can overcome this obstacle by making sure staff understand normal adolescent development, having a good acceptable behavior policy in place, and continually communicating the overall success of your program.  Read this blog entry to learn more about working with non teen services staff.

 So let’s recap, shall we . . .

The cons are:
there can be some behavior issues,
you will have to sell it and sell it again to some staff and there is a certain level of training and communication that I think is important – let your staff know about the success of the program, share quotes from your teens, let them know the benefits over and over again.

The pros are:
it meets teens developmental need for peer oriented interaction;
it communicates a level of trust and respect to the teens;
it gives teens an opportunity to choose how to spend their time in a safe environment with some oversight;
it gives you and your library a forum to communicate new materials, popular materials, upcoming events and services;
it builds a core teen audience for your library;
it allows you opportunities to develop relationships with teens in your community and better meet their needs (they become and informal TAB);
parents and community members love seeing this type of positive teen programming;
and it builds positive pr opportunities.

Herein lies one final important point:  There is no value in programming if nobody comes.  I recently formed and participated in a local Asset Builder’s Coalition (you can read about it in the October 2011 edition of VOYA).  One of the things we discussed as a part of the coalition is how you get teens to come to your programming.  It involved organizations from United Way, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, The Boys and Girls Club, etc.  Over and over again one of the themes that kept coming up was the idea that teens were more likely to come if they felt they had more freedom within the program to choose what they were going to do, how they were going to spend their time.

So if you can, I encourage you to make “hanging out” a part of your regularly scheduled programming.  It’s a win win for everyone.