Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

A Teen Programming Primer

At some point or another, as a teen librarian, you may find yourself having to talk to staff and administrators about library programming.  Sometimes you may have to address funding issues.  Other times you may find yourself having to justify the amount of staff time that is spend developing, marketing and executing teen programs.  And at other times you may have to find yourself helping staff and administrators understand and deal with teen behavior issues.  Despite the amount of time and money that teen programming can consume, and the behavior problems that can sometimes come along with teen programs, it is an essential part of teen services in any public library.  The bottom line is this:  Programming helps teens understand the role of the library, how to use it and its resources, and it helps cultivate lifelong library users and supporters.

Why do libraries engage in programming, including teen programming?

It is a marketing tool that keeps your library visible in the community
Each program you have makes your presence known in the community and communicates the message that your library is a viable part of the community’s educational and recreational needs.  It also communicates the message that you understand, value and respect the teens in your community and are actively providing a way to meet their needs.

It helps bring in new library patrons
Each program is an opportunity for a new teenager to become a regular library user

It helps bring in return business
Each program, especially those in a series like storytimes or Teen CoffeeHouse/Cafes, helps bring in repeat business

It allows libraries the opportunity to build community partnerships
Programs are opportunities to work with various community resources and build partnerships – which most libraries have as one of their primary goals.  You can partner with local businesses and agencies for prizes, share time and financial resources (as well as wisdom and experiences) and piggyback with larger agencies to gain greater visibility.  For example, your local big Brothers/Big Sisters has developed programs that can be done right in your library thus saving you the time of developing a new program; these programs involve financial education, health and more that are based on researched standards and well developed.

It increases circulation, promotes your collection and promotes literacy
As you develop a core teen patron base, your circulation will increase.  In addition, you will have opportunities to better know your teen patrons and learn their reading interests so that you can purchase and place targeted books in their hands.  Since teens are so peer oriented, they will often become your best publicity.  The greatest thing that will ever happen is to stumble across a read that a teen loves and get them to tell all their friends that they have to read this book.  Each program is also an opportunity to highlight parts of your collection or simply display new teen titles.

It helps fulfill important goals and objectives for our community members such as Every Child Ready to Read, the 40 Developmental Assets, etc.
As children and teens meet healthy development requirements, the community as a whole – including the library – benefits.  Healthy community members=healthy communities.
Every Child Ready to Read http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/alsc/ecrr/index.cfm
40 Developmental Assets http://www.search-institute.org/assets/

It helps fulfill your library’s mission statement
Your library should have a well developed mission statement and it should include a reference to programming.  Even if it doesn’t, programming helps meet educational goals, recreational goals and life long learning goals and these are all a part of most library mission statements.

Marketing, Marketing, Marketing
Each program is an opportunity to market your library.  They demonstrate that “wow” factor: here is an exciting event for your patrons to participate in.  And the bottom line is it is easier to market an individual program than to market the all inclusive but abstract value of the library.  An event is easier to market than a concept, but each event can help reinforce the concept theme that public libraries are valuable and exciting.  In addition, by having a wide variety of events, you can increase the variety of marketing targets.  A craft program will meet the needs to one part of your audience while a gaming program will meet the needs of a different part of your audience.

Foundations of Teen programming

  • It is essential in dealing with teens that you understand and respect the teenage years and developmental process.

Not only must you, as a teen librarian, have this knowledge, but you must actively and continually share it with all library staff.  Provide training events that allows staff to understand adolescent development and develop successful strategies in interacting with teen patrons.  These training opportunities should have opportunities for staff to remember what it was like for them as a teen – what they liked, what they thought, how they felt.  As they remember this time it can help them develop compassion and tolerance.  In addition, a variety of role playing events should be included so that staff can practice what they will say to teen patrons and feel more comfortable when situations arise.  If possible, get together a panel of teens to talk about their experiences in the library – both successful and not – so that staff can hear straight from teens what they do and don’t like.

  • Spend some time researching the teenage brain

Research shows that the teenage brain is different than any other age.  Understanding the how and why can help you better work with teens and meet their needs.  There are a couple of good book resources out there that discuss this topic, and you can visit a couple of different websites to help in your research.
http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/teenage-brain-a-work-in-progress-fact- sheet/index.shtml

  • It is important to note key characteristics of teens:

(1)   they are peer oriented
(2)   different areas of their brain are engaged differently then adults, see above,
(3)   they have a belief system of “it can’t happen to me” which results in them taking chances

  • You must spend time immersing yourself in teen popular culture – keep on top of what games they like to play, what music and movies are popular, etc.  Visit popular teen web resources, watch popular teen programs, and browse through your teen magazines monthly.  You can’t serve someone unless you know what they like and want.

Organizing teen programming

  • Structured vs. Unstructured – there should ultimately be a variety of degrees in structure.  Not all programs should be structured, nor should they all be without structure.  Variety is indeed the spice of life.
  • Passive vs. Active – Passive programs allow teens to work in their own space at their own pace.  These can include contests, scavenger hunts, etc.  Active programs have the benefit of being completed in a finite amount of time, bringing teens together with their peers, and have that “wow” factor that demonstrates that the library is a fun, exciting place to be.
  • Audience – middle school teens are often a library’s primary audience because they come with the least amount of competition.  High school students are more engaged in extra curricular activities, relationships and jobs.  This means that you have to work harder to draw in high school students, but it is essential that every library does.
  • Type of program –
    • Gaming – can include video games or traditional board games.  Or get creative and do large scale versions of popular games such as a murder mystery (live Clue) or a human chess tournament,
    • Scavenger Hunts (fun and help teens learn rudimentary library skills),
    • Cafes (least amount of prep and planning, allow teens to be in peer group settings),
    • Crafts (costly, very limited target area, but can promote library collection and provide a sense of satisfaction as teens walk out with something they have made),
    • Speakers (most boring for teens – demand them to sit and reminds them of school – but provides them with important information and very likely to reinforce library services or collection areas),
    • Book clubs,
    • Teen advisory boards (gives teens input, can take a lot of time involvement)

Goals and Evaluations

  • Before organizing a program, determine what your specific goals are: audience, attendance, expenditures – both staff time and money, and what you want the teens to accomplish
  • Have a mechanism in place after a program so that you can determine if you have met your goals and how you can further meet them in the future.


  • Schools – flyers or announcements, here you have a captive audience
  • Local businesses – signs
  • Word of mouth is your best publicity – as you develop teen followers, they will spread the news for you
  • If you have the means, collect e-mail addresses and send notices, get a Facebook page and use the event function and post reminders in your status feed
  • Develop routines so that teens can better predict programming – every Tuesday, the first Saturday of the month, etc.  This eliminates some of the guess work for your patrons.


  • Join a YALSA list-serv (there are several, some are for books and some are for programming)
  • Look at what other libraries are doing
  • Develop relationships with other teen librarians
  • There are several book resources: Patrick Jones, 101 teen programs that work, alterna teens

Web sources:

Teen Services Best Practices and Competencies
A checklist for what you need to know and be as a teen librarian: