Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Career Conversations, programming for older teens

What do older teens want out of library programing? Communities differ, but in my area, with teens in a highly demanding school loaded with AP courses and ample, high quality after school activity options, the library’s offerings have tough competition for teens’ precious after school time. The strategy here is not to attempt competing with school and other activities at all, but to compliment them.

Career Conversations attempts to bridge teens from the excellent guidance department they have access to at school to something a little looser, something a little more connected to the real world. This is not a Teen Program in a Box, because a lot of the work is going to fall on your shoulders, and those of your teen board. But for the legwork it takes, it is inexpensive (free, even), useful, and fairly simple.

Career Conversations is a series of panel discussions, each focusing on a different type of work. What’s it really like to be an engineer? What does that even mean anymore? What’s your life like as a family doctor as opposed to a surgeon? How would I know which specialization to choose? The only real way to know is to talk to people who do these jobs.


Tips for starting your own Career Conversation series

  • Whenever possible, work in concert with local guidance offices. Find out what they are offering and plan your events to compliment them. Send flyers to them and ask for their help in promoting your events. If your local schools offer any clubs or activities that relate to the panel, include them in the planning and promotion.
  • When choosing a theme, think about career types that teens can relate to. My panel on engineering careers was a great hit, but we canceled the one on nonprofit sector careers due to lack of interest. I don’t think this means that our teens are disinterested in nonprofit work, rather they don’t have a solid touchpoint to make sense of what that phrase means in their lives. It would have been better titled something like “Careers that save the world” or “Working for the greater good” or something like that.
  • Use your Teen Board, teenaged library employees, the teen liaison to the library board, and any other “key teen informants” to spread the word. Whereas most of our younger patrons hear about programs from their parents, older teen program attendance can thrive or die on word of mouth promotion.
  • Strive for diversity on your panel. If everyone you know who works in healthcare is a middle aged woman in a family practice doctor’s office, move away from who you know and find people who represent a wider diversity in both work and demographic.
  • Contact your local Chamber of Commerce to find speakers from different professions. This can help to build connections in your local community as well.
  • Keep any professional organizations in mind too. Folks that are active in promoting their profession through professional organizations are great resources for promoting their work to teens as well. Some organizations, such as the Society of Women Engineers, even has a high school outreach branch.
  • Feed them. Offer light refreshments as a way to encourage mingling and chatting either before or after the panel conversation. Rather than the “if you feed them they will come” premise, here refreshments works as a social lubricant – giving teens something to do while networking. For my event, I had cut veggies, hummus, a platter of grapes, and lemonade. It can be simple.
  • Ask for teens to contribute questions. If you have a feedback wall or comment box in your teen area, use this as a way to draw questions from teens.
  • Encourage a conversation among the panelists. I found that people who do similar work in different ways enjoy discussing the commonalities, even in spite of their differences.

Have you hosted similar programs? Share tips and cautions in the comments!


Take 5 TPiBs: Raid the Cabinet, Zero Cost Programs

Summer budget running low? Need some quick and easy drop-in programs? Here are five ideas that you can pull off in an afternoon for pennies or less because you most likely already have the supplies. And if YOU don’t, chances are the kids’ department does and will be happy to let you take them off their hands and help clear out their craft cabinet.  Ready, set, GO with these five fast free program ideas!

1. Yarn wrapped words & letters. 
Supplies: Pipe cleaners & yarn bits. Maybe some glue.
What to do & why:
Bend pipe cleaners into words and shapes.
Enlist teens to create these for display signs “Great Mysteries!” “Readalikes” “Teen Lounge”
Bend and wrap quotes or allusions to favorite books “Okay? Okay.” “Kiss me, Hardy!”

from Bloesem Kids

2. Exploding Chain Competition
Supplies: popsicle sticks and space
What to do & why:
Teach kids a simple weave using popsicle sticks. See who can build the longest chain, go around a corner, through the legs of a table, etc. Do it because it’s fun and your meeting room is bigger than their family room and no one will gripe about losing popsicle sticks behind the couch like at home.

from FrugalFun4Boys (but girls would like it too)

3. Create Book Jars

Supplies: clean jars, paper, whatever decorations you have lying around (stickers, magazines & Mod Podge for decoupage, sharpies)
What to do and why: 
Have teens cut slips of paper and write all of the books they want to read on them.  Add some of your own! Include summaries or have each start with “You’ve got to read this because…” and have teens swap and share.  Decorate the jars, fold up the papers and fill the jars, pull slips out of the jar when you don’t know what to read next. Why do it? Um… books?!

from AlexInLeeds

4. Giant Bananagrams

Supplies: cardstock or cardboard (can even be repurposed; just need one side), markers
What to do and why:
Make up square game pieces with the letters in the Bananagram game, or another word game like Scrabble. Head outside or into a big room, and play a giant sized version of the game in teams. Why? Because Summer’s too short to stay inside all the time. This’ll get them moving, working in teams, and exercising all that great vocabulary they’re getting from their summer reading books.

from Lunametrics

5. Teen Coloring Day

Supplies: any of the many printable coloring book designs with teen appeal, crayons, markers, etc
What to do and why:
Play it up as a throwback program, an exam time stress reliever, or spin it into another themed event. Do it because though they may look jaded and mature, teens still yearn for play and fun. Coloring is relaxing and meditative, and will remind them of simpler times. Print up your pages, put out the art supplies, turn on some good music and have some fun! Try these for coloring page inspiration:
What are your great, free program ideas?