Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

TPiB: Self Directed and Free Range Program Ideas

Not all teen programming has to be a come to the library at this time and place and do this activity type of an event. Sometimes, we can put together programming where teens participate in their own time. Many libraries call this “passive programming”, but thanks to the brilliance of someone at a webinar I once attended (and I’m sorry I don’t know who you are), I have transitioned from calling them passive programs to “self-directed programs.” And my co-author and co-blogger Heather Booth refers to them at times as Free Range Programs. (See The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services pages 84-85). The benefit is that these types of programs can last for a longer period of time, and without the strict time constraints you can sometimes get not only more, but different participation because it makes it easier for your over-scheduled teens to participate since they can do so in a bigger time window.

So here are some Self Directed and Free Range Program Ideas

1. #3wordbooktalk

The #3wordbooktalk is easy, fun, and it allows you to tap into social media. I came up with this idea at a teen book festival after Victoria Scott described her books using only 3 words. It’s such a challenge, but a fun one. You can find out more about this here and here. We’re actually getting ready to do this as our Teen Read Week activity and I’m super excited.

2. 6 Second Booktalk

A Vine video is exactly 6 seconds. Can you record a 6 second booktalk? As an example, here’s Megan Bannen sharing a 6 second booktalk for We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (be warned, there be spoilers!) : http://elockhartbooks.tumblr.com/post/93306712319/6-second-book-talk-for-we-were-liars-by-e

Using Vine to do a 6 second booktalk gets teens thinking creativity, using tech, and, again, it taps into current social media trends.

3. Scratch Off Tickets

My co-worker found this fun idea and we are using it to hand out prizes for Teen Read Week. It’s like creating a lottery ticket, but instead of money we are taking an inventory of all our left over prizes from previous events and teens will get what they get in this really fun way.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P0xDwDYC4Hw]

4. Book Jar

Don’t know what book to read next? Stick your hand in the book jar and see what title is recommended by the luck of the draw. Heather has mentioned this one before, but it’s a fun one. Rincey Reads has a DIY tutorial on YouTube.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B9aoWP9hcxo]

5. Book Speed Dating

Way back in 2012 Stephanie Wilkes shared her book speed dating program with us. You can revisit it here. And here’s a look at the form she put together that you can use as a model to make your own. Have fun with it!

And now it’s your turn! Share your favorite self-directed and free range programming ideas in the comments. I’m looking for my next fun program.

Wrap-Up: Book Fight!

So in case you haven’t been following me on Twitter or Tumblr, I’ve been hosting my first ever Book Battle at my library. The original dates were March 1 – April 5, but I miscalculated a bit and redid my posters so that the battle ended with the end of the month:

I made brackets, and every week I made new ballots. I pulled all the books, movies, and Playaways related to the books and put them on display. Weekly prizes were books I culled from donations, and the grand prize is the victorious book (or books, depending- if it was a 2-3 book series, I could swing that from my programming money, but if it was a huge series, not so much)….

I wasn’t sure what kind of reaction I was going to get- my teens can be hit or miss sometimes. Self-directed things relating to FOOD, absolute hit. Anything else has been iffy….. So imagine my surprise when I kept getting more and MORE and MORE entries.

Starting Display

 First week, I had 10. Not really bad, considering. Second week, which was our Spring Break week, I had 21. And it was going along relatively predictable lines- Hunger Games vs Divergent, Vampire Academy vs Boy Nobody, Wicked Lovely vs Prophecy, and The Testing vs City of Bones.

Week Three

 Then Week three hit, and I got 36 entries. THIRTY-SIX. I didn’t miscount. The teens weren’t messing with me, or with the contest. They had gotten into it, and I was hearing debates about the books- why this one was better than that one, and why Tris and Four should beat out Nobody, and how Kira would kick Cia’s ass. (They don’t censor around me when we’re alone- when in mixed company, yes.)

Final Week

The final week, after counting the votes from week three, we were down to two books: Divergent by Veronica Roth and Prophecy by Ellen Oh. Now, everyone on my staff were placing bets on Divergent- movie coming out, we can’t keep the series on the shelf, etc.
So I counted the votes on the 31st. THIRTY-NINE votes. From FIFTEEN different teens (I never said they couldn’t vote more than once- in fact, I encouraged them to vote daily), and the vote was a rout.
If you do not have this series in your collection, add it.
 Ellen Oh’s Prophecy was the overwhelming winner!!! Against huge series like Mortal Instruments, Divergent, The Hunger Games, and others, Ellen Oh’s beautifully written story about Kira and her quest won out.
I contacted Ellen Oh via Twitter, on the off chance that she’s maybe possibly send signed bookplates so that I can put them in the books my grand prize winner will get, and she’s being so gracious she’s sending us signed copies of Prophecy. I could not have asked for better, and my teen winner will be over the moon- he’s like me, authors are his idols.
So if you have any doubt about whether or not a book fight/battle is worth it, it definitely is. It wasn’t an incredible investment considering the outcome:
  • 3-4 hours to get things queued up (books selected, brackets set up, book covers located and printed out, brackets created, donations located from Main Library, and first ballots printed)
  • Notifying staff about contest and asking them to push it to teens
  • An hour per week during the battle to get ballots collected and counted, new ballots printed, and wall updated
  • Another hour to get winning series from local bookstore (I could order these online but I like local shops)
  • Possibly an hour online Twitter/email with Ellen Oh back and forth about the awesomeness that she won
  • Investment total: 10 hours, in-house printing and donations, $25.00 budget for winning books
  • Outcome: 106 entries, over 20 different teens involved

Self Directed Programming: Book Fight!

Self Directed (or Passive) programming can be anything you want it to be. They can be as intimate as filling up a jar full of Legos or Skittles and having patrons guess the number in the jar, or printing out a variety of cubee creatures and setting out tape and kid scissors for an hour, then counting how many are left at the end.

Or, you could create your first ever Book Fight/Battle/Challenge/Madness…..

Plenty of people have done this, but I’ve never attempted this at any of my libraries before. Part of it is due to the intimidation factor- you think, OMG, this is a HUGE undertaking, what if the books I pair are ridiculous, what if no one gets it, what if it fails??!?!?!?!?!?!?!

I have to remember that I actually have logic behind this.
First, I figure, worst comes to worse, I have a very interesting display for a month.  And these are all popular titles that have circulated well, and I paired them with similar interests in mind (at least in the first round, The Hunger Games is not going up against The Selection). I have prizes for the preliminary rounds (donated YA books that I’ve saved), and a planned grand prize (winner gets the winning book) so there’s stated rules for the contest.

And, my staff and I can sell it to the teens.

So here’s my pairings for the first round:
  • Vampire Academy Series vs House of Night series
  • Boy Nobody vs I Am Number 4
  • Matched Series vs The Selection Series
  • Iron Fey Series vs Wicked Lovely Series
  • Chronicles of Nick series vs Mortal Instruments series
  • Throne of Glass series vs Prophecy series
  • Hunger Games series vs Divergent series
  • Legend series vs Testing series
My teen wall display:
My brackets so teens can keep track:
And my flyer that is going everywhere around the library and the center:
Fingers crossed and we’ll see how it goes!

A Sherlock Holmes Themed Community Reading Event, a guest post by Anna Behm

My library is abuzz with all things Sherlock Holmes, but it has nothing (well, almost nothing) to do with the premiere of the third season of Sherlock. We just launched our first independent community reading event, Westmont Reads, and The Hound of the Baskervilles is our chosen book. And while it might be too soon to evaluate the overall successes and failures of the program, I’m pretty excited about what the team at Westmont has created so far. These are a few of of my particular favorites:

The entire library staff is involved and on board. We’re a medium­sized suburban library with eleven full time staff members and twenty­one part timers. We wanted the whole staff involved in Westmont Reads, so the first thing we did was open the book selection up to a vote. Once The Hound became the clear choice, all staff were encouraged to join a committee ­ programming, outreach, or marketing. Not only do we have a large pool of talent to draw from, but getting all staff involved has given everyone a stake in the success of the program.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wukf8vo6us0]

A staff created video trailer for the program builds interest.

We created something unique for our patrons. The Hound of the Baskervilles is in the public domain and available for free as an ebook from sites like Project Gutenberg (and easy to load onto a flash drive and give to patrons), and inexpensive as a paperback. We decided to give away copies of The Hound of the Baskervilles for free. A local artist who happens to work in the circulation department (again, drawing from that pool of talent) designed a custom dust jacket for the book. She also lent her talents to the design of the Westmont Reads website, posters, bookmarks, and swag (I’m talking some of the COOLEST one ­inch buttons on the planet).

The library uses Facebook to interact and conduct trivia events. Showing the prize right in the post is a great way to build interest!

We planned tons of activities and events for all ages. Programming was by far the most popular staff committee, and it shows. From lectures and book discussions for our adult patrons, to mystery game nights and The Hound themed LEGO adventures for families, to special storytimes and tea parties for children, and forensics training and special volunteer opportunities for teens ­ there’s a little bit of something for everyone going on at the Westmont Library this winter. Many of the events have not taken place yet (Westmont Reads runs through February), but I’m impressed by the range of activities the staff has come up with. Staff even planned a Westmont Reads event for themselves ­ dressing up as their favorite character from the book on Halloween.

The community is involved in a variety of ways. The outreach committee solicited a variety of partnerships with local businesses and organizations. Many businesses agreed to hang posters promoting Westmont Reads. Some locations let us drop off copies of The Hound for their customers. Other businesses acted as destinations in our community scavenger hunt. We also fostered a relationship with the local humane society ­ they agreed to come to the library to give a talk about rescue dogs, and the library set up a donation bin so that patrons could help provide them with much needed supplies. The local community theatre group is even getting in on the fun ­ they are scheduled to perform a Sherlock Holmes radio play at the library after hours in two weeks.

Aligning Westmont Reads with the new season of Sherlock was just a coincidence (though if

anyone were to ask, I’d be tempted to say that yes, we really are that hip­ and­ with ­it at the WPL). Personally I am a big fan of the BBC series, and am thrilled to have an excuse to incorporate it into Westmont Reads. It’s certainly a testament to Arthur Conan Doyle and his work that Sherlock Holmes remains such an engaging presence in popular culture. I am more than happy to ride those coattails, and enjoy everything Sherlock Holmes, for a few weeks more. 

Anna Behm is the Adult Services Coordinator at the Westmont Public Library in Westmont, Illinois.

TPiB: Self Directed Game Day Contest

International Games Day is November 16, and it is a wonderful way to get tweens and teens involved in the library. I’ve put together a neat self-directed contest to get them interested in the program that we’re having that Saturday, and also to get them involved in the library itself.
First, I took a simple shadow box that I got at Michael’s. You could easily get one at Hobby Lobby, a big box store, or any craft store- Michael’s is just an approved vendor for my system, and they have let me loose with a city credit card and a budget!
Next, I used the promotional materials from the International Games Day site to create a flyer (both poster sized and small enough to fit inside my shadow box) advertising the program.

Finally, I added in some of the odd pieces from games that had been left over during the year to create my contest, and placed them inside the shadow box. Those attempting the contest have to name ALL the games that are featured inside the box in order to win, and there are 8 games featured.

Can you guess all 8 games?
They are now on display, and then once I get a chance, game based books (like Cory Doctorow’s For the Win and Game by Barry Lyga) will be placed on display around the contest area. My self directed display contest will start November 4, and continue through November 13, with winners (if any) being announced November 14.

TPiB: Self Directed Displays in Action

A few weeks back I posted about self-directed displays and how they are a life-saver for when things go wrong and you NEED something to pop. However, they are also particularly awesome for gaining interest in things you are already doing- whether it’s a program, or drawing interest to a particular collection, or anything else within the library.

I’ve started doing a self-directed contest style display every week for a month now, and the stats have proven that the time it takes to put it together more makes it worthwhile.  Taking a theme (Banned Books Week, Star Wars Reads Week, Playaway Collection, Teen Read Week), I was able to:
  • interact with current patrons
  • interact with new patrons
  • get the chance to sell programs in the library
  • draw attention to things we were already doing but patrons may have missed
  • actively gain statistics for a week-long program that took minimal staff planning time and funds
  • gain positive publicity within the library by piquing the curiosity
  • get patrons to come back to the library to find out a.) who won, and b.) what the next display is about
Curious about what I’ve been doing? Click through to see the pictures!


I took plastic jars like these (these are rice jars, but you could use any plastic container- as soon as we’re cleared for FY2014, I’m going to be upgrading to a more sturdy container and a shadowbox to give me more options), and took the labels off using goo-gone.  
 I then took one of our weeded copies of Captain Underpants, shredded it, and placed it in the jar. 

I then created my display, placing other challenged books from our collection, a sign explaining what was going on, and my entry form for patrons to guess the book. Those who guessed correctly were entered to win copies of the book. 
I had 23 entries.


Using the same jars and inspiration from my co-blogger Robin, I used Reece’s Pieces cereal and a pair of Yoda earbuds that I found on clearance at a big box store. I buried Master Yoda in the *cough* Ewok poop, counting each piece.

I then created my display, using our library mascots, books from our collection, and props given away from the Star Wars Reads Day marketing team.

I ran it Monday through Saturday, ending it during our Star Wars Reads Day program. We had 25 entries.


For Teen Read Week, I’ve taken a loose interpretation of Seek the Unknown. I have my teen movie night that week, and we’re having a teen reading contest throughout the system as well. Since my location is not open the Sunday TRW starts, I’m actually launching the contest early, and opening it up to all. This time, I’ve let loose the fluffy marshmallow candies.

The mascots are dressed for Halloween, and will be sitting around the container. Entries will be accepted through October 19, with the winner drawn October 21. The one who is closest to the correct number of marshmallow birds will win the birds.

Because for this contest, Bird is the Word.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4thNIrzqUXs?rel=0]

Karen’s note: I can not tell you how much fun we have had walking around saying Ewok Poop.  My Tweens love it!

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!

TPiB: Free Comic Book Day

This Saturday marks the 11th year of Free Comic Book Day, and I LOVE this day. Started in 2002, and coordinated by Diamond Comics, participating comic shops AND libraries across the country give comics AWAY FREE to those who come by. These comics are free to customers (not the stores), and the day has three purposes:

1. to introduce people everywhere to the joy of reading comics (we love reading, right?)

2. to gain future comic readers (and gaining future readers is always good)

3. to thank current comic book buyers and customers for their support (generates excellent good will within the community)

However, if you do not HAVE free comics to give away to your patrons, DO NOT PANIC. You can still put together an awesome Free Comic Book Day event with a minimum of effort.

First, check the Free Comic Book Day website for retailers that are participating in your area. Give them a call and explain who you are and that you want to put flyers up in the library pointing patrons to their locations for Free Comic Book Day, and that *NEXT* year you’d love to partner with them. By this time, it’s way too late to expect shops to free up some of their inventory for you, but this way you can start generating the good will with the shops for next year.

Second, think about what type of programming you can reasonably handle on Saturday without stretching your staff too thin.  If you have a wonderful manager, or are in charge of your own schedule, then full speed ahead; if you’re not, take a look at when you’re on the desk and how the rest of the library is staffed. Always keep an eye on what you can REASONABLY handle, and what the rest of the library staff can handle as well. The best types of programs will not stress ANYONE out needlessly.

Think about whether you want to do self directed or staff directed programming. Then take a look at the ideas below that can fit into either.


Movie Marathons: Do you have a public performance license? Do you have the equipment to show movies? Do you have the space (teen room, program room, various areas)? If so, pull movies to show throughout the day, and combine them with some of the self directed ideas below. Iron Man 3 will be released in theaters this Friday; show Iron Man, Iron Man 2, and The Avengers. Need to show movies that are more family friendly as you are in an open space?  Go with Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl, Despicable Me, Scooby Doo, or Speed Racer. Or if you have the additional anime license, show anime from the Movie Licensing USA Collection.

http://blogs.strose.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/boardgames.jpgLow Tech Gaming: Have a space or some empty tables? Put up flyers advertising a Low Tech Gaming day. Let your teens know to bring their Yu-Gi-Oh cards and your tweens to bring their Pokemon decks. See if any of your staffers would be willing to lend their comic based versions of Monopoly (I know I am not the only one out there that has Star Wars The Clone Wars Monopoly or Marvel Monopoly). Maybe someone has Simpsons Operation. Find a copy of Apples to Apples Disney Version. Or maybe someone has Scooby Doo Clue.

Console Gaming: If you have the space and the equipment, set up your console gaming equipment for some free style gaming. Titles like Marvel vs Capcom, Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe, DragonBall Z and Naruto completely fit the bill for a comic based program. An entire page in Wikipedia is devoted to titles (note: not all titles will be appropriate for teen programs in all libraries- you know your library so choose what would work for you).

Costume Party: Get buy-in from your library management, and have a costume party- everyone come dressed as their favorite hero (or villain). If you can’t go all out in dress, see if you can get a waiver for everyone to wear jeans and their favorite comic based T-shirt (within workplace rules- no graphic language, etc.). Then have a costume contest with your teens! Have their secret identity be their normal identity, and then they have a certain amount of time to change into their superhero (or villain) identity (without having to strip).  The changing room could be a closet off the program room or a storage area (if needed), and everyone would vote for their favorite costume. Music could be queued up from various comic based movie scores, and the winner announced at the end. Stations could be made from various self directed ideas, and it could be an entire celebration.

Often times we just can’t do everything we want to do (money, time, staff, energy) and we need to remember that IT’S OK. Teen and youth service specialists are some of the most self-sacrificing people I know, and we want to give our “kids” everything- and we can’t do it sometimes. An easy way to have ‘something’ without driving ourselves over the bring is to do self directed programs- things that can be left out at a table with directions that tweens and teens can do on their own. It’s still a program, it counts for your stats, but it involves minimal effort.
PAPERKRAFT: I love paperkraft (cubees in other words). I can print a set off, run off copies on the black and white printer, set them out with the kiddie scissors, crayons and tape and let my tweens and teens loose.  I really like these super hero ones.

SUPER HERO CUFFS:  Over at Sewing In No Man’s Land they have a quick tutorial for Super Hero Cuffs…  Perfect for all those toilet paper rolls you didn’t know what to do with….

JOURNAL PROMPT: Sometimes all teens want is a chance to draw and doodle, so why not make May a month of self exploration with a Saturday of journal prompts? Comic Book Saturday could start with what type of superhero would I be…  Lay out scissors, blank copy paper, leftover magazines, colored copy paper, construction paper, markers, and other craft supplies, and let them loose.  

INNER SUPER HERO: Or if art journaling is too much, have them create their Inner Super Hero with the printable forms from KOMBOH.

You can also put together a GN page template in Publisher and invite teens to create their own GN page.  Once they are done, use them to decorate your endcaps.  PS – you can also do a simple comic strip panel template as well.  There are some downloadable PDFs here.

In the past, I have also hired a Caricature artist to come for a few hours into the teen area and just had an informal program where teens hung out, read comics, and had their caricatures made.  You can do online searches to find caricature artists in your area.
What plans do you have for Free Comic Book Day? Or are you celebrating it as Star Wars Day (May the 4th Be With You)…?

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.