Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

TPiB: Retro Rad- the 1970’s

You know a party isn’t a party with disco, right? If the 50s and 60s didn’t hit your teens, have them go all out and rock the bell bottoms and go go boots of the 70’s for a wild time. Full on hippie styles they’ll know from the musical Hair, bell bottom and disco styles that they can associate with Saturday Night Fever and the Bee Gees, and music from ABBA will all hit the right notes for your stylin’ set. Think The Brady Bunch, Bewitched, the original Battlestar Galatica, the Superfriends, and The Gong Show to pull ideas for dress and games.

Dig out the bell bottoms, and ring them high, for this was the age the originals came out. Moon boots that are seeing a comeback now were original to the 1970’s as well, and don’t forget your maxi dresses. Big glasses with tinted glass, floppy hats, and high wasted pants with long sleeves and feathered hair were all the rage- or letting your hair go natural and embracing your heritage. Or go mod and wear mini skirts with long sleeves and high socks, and show off your love of colors…
 Disco and smooth jazz were highlights during this era, along with soul, and some rock. Think Bee Gees, The Hustle, Donna Summer, Gloria Gaynor for your disco. Or the Carpenters and John Denver for soft rock, while Aerosmith started hitting the charts for hard rock. James Brown, Sly and the Family Stone, the Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, Tower of Power, and others had the airwaves for jazz and soul.
  • Create a life sized battleship board in your room by nominating captains then sectioning off the room with cardboard. Have people lay down as the boats, and people call out the hits as they strike
  • Find Stratego boards and have a tournament, or Operation boards and see who the winner could be through their strategy and skill
  • Create a photo booth so that teens can show off their 70’s styles and instagram them to their friends, or make instragram crafts with them
  • Teach teens the popular dances of the era (the Hustle, YMCA, etc.) then have a dance off
  •  Have a costume relay race- gather up items like a leisure suite, big shoes, vest, weird hair, etc., and have teams relay throughout the area to see which team can get the best time


 Run these movies in the background for the perfect atmosphere, or have them be a centerpiece for a longer program. Be sure to check with your public performance license to make sure you can show them. Titles marked with an asterisk would be awesome for sing-alongs.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory *
Grease * (made in 70’s, set in 60’s)
Carrie (1976)
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
The Wiz *
Logan’s Run
Tommy* (bonus points if they can name the stars)
Soylent Green
Hair *
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Enter the Dragon

TPiB: Retro Rad Valentines- 1960’s

1950’s not your style? If you want to flip back in time for Valentines (or any time for a teen program) try the 1960’s. Instead of bobby socks and poodle skirts think of the mod and miniskirts, flipped hair, and the beginning of the hippies. Jacqueline Kennedy, Twiggy, Austin Powers, and the Beatles.  Gilligan’s Island, the beginnings of Doctor Who, the original Star Trek, and I Dream of Jeannie.

With such a wide range to work with, how can you NOT have fun?


To get ideas for dress, look no further than current TV. Mad Men or the original episodes of Doctor Who will give you all the ideas that you need, as well as idea for hair and makeup. Look to your collection or the web for articles on hair and how to do flips and bubble hair, or if you have it long enough, iron it. If you don’t want to wear a suit or a dress, find a pair of flare pants, and a long sleeved shirt and tuck it in with a large belt, or go completely flower child hippie.

My tweens and teens are in love with 60’s music, even if they don’t know it’s from the 60’s. They will CONSTANTLY sing Beatles music, and will listen to Hendrix at the drop of a hat. Load up your ipod with all the genres and be surprised at what your teens know.
Look no further than the British Invasion and start with the Beatles, then move to the Monkees. The Rolling Stones, The Animals, Freddie and the Dreamers, the Kinks and the Dave Clark Five all are in the early 60’s. Muddy Waters, Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, and other folk singers hit their fame in the 60’s as well. Or if that’s not your scene, move to the surf rock of the Beach Boys, the Champs, or the Ventures, or the psychedelic rock of Jimi Hendrix or the Doors or Jefferson Airplane. Janis Joplin and the blues rock, Paul Revere and the Raiders style of garage rock, and Credence Clearwater Revival and their style of roots rock are all 60’s style. 

  • Grab multiple sets of Twister and have a Twist-off contest for a master champion!
  • Pass the orange (or tennis ball if you’re afraid of allergies): line up everyone, and you have to pass the object from neck to neck down the line and back without touching. For a competitive spirit, you can make teams.
  • Grab the hula hoops and have a contest to see who can last the longest
  • Musical chairs to the music
  • Freeze dancing- everyone can dance (somewhat, right) but can you stop when then music does?

 Want some 60’s inspired crafts to go with your theme night and valentines?
  • Decorate a pet rock
  • Create daisy chain necklaces
  • Dig out the pony beads and create groovy love necklaces for you or your valentine
  • Get adventurous and have everyone bring an item to tie-dye
  • Hand out psychedelic coloring sheets like these or these
  • take a look at some of the vintage valentine pages online for inspiration:
    And when all else fails? Show movies for that perfect ambiance- just check to make sure your public performance license covers it.
    Titles marked with a (*) are awesome for sing-alongs.
    American Graffiti
     Dr. No
    From Russia With Love
    Dr. Strangelove
     Funny Girl *
    The Love Bug
    Mary Poppins *
    My Fair Lady*
    Hairspray (2007) *
    The Sound of Music *
    West Side Story *
    Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
    Breakfast at Tiffany’s
    It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World
    Night of the Living Dead (1968)
    Batman (1966)
    Across the Universe *

    Next up, the 1970’s

From a Librarian in the Trenches: Thoughts on Themes (a guest post by Jennifer Wills)

I came into this Teen Librarian position all “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose” about pretty much everything.  I was revved up by library school classes that stressed the importance of Programming For Teens and introduced me to the high holy days:  Teen Read Week, Teen Tech Week, and the Summer Reading Program.  Teen Read Week?  Awesome!  “Books with Beat?”  Um . . . Sure!  Let’s do this!  I will take a poster in every size and as many bookmarks as you can spare, thanks.  I threw myself into displays and contests and school visits and everything short of a stage show.  

But as that first year progressed through Teen Tech Week (Learn Create Share @ Your Library) to the summer reading program (Make Waves @ Your Library) I began to notice that any time I invoked one of the provided themes for these special weeks, there was a definite shift in the conversation I was having with the teens.  They would be right with me as we talked about summer reading and prizes and such, but the second I mentioned the theme there was a subtle (or sometimes not-so-subtle) cringe, or smirk, or glaze of the eyes as if to say, “I see you are trying to market to me, Adult Person.  And you are doing it wrong.”  The focus of the conversation immediately changed from the library and how we are relevant to their lives to an explanation of how the theme was relevant to the event.  
Flash forward three years.  I’m a bit more settled in my job and I’ve discovered the secret that many of you know but no one mentioned in any of my grad school classes on programming for teens or advocating for teens or teen literature, and it is this:  getting to know and genuinely connecting with teens is the BEST PART OF THE JOB and absolutely essential for getting teens excited about libraries.  Knowing that means now I’m the one who cringes as each new theme is announced.  For instance, take this recent exchange:
Awesome Teen: {picks up Summer Reading Program entry form} What’s this?
Me:  That’s the entry form for our Teen Summer Reading Program.
AT:  Why does it say “Beneath the Surface?”
Me:  That’s just the theme this year.  But see, it says “Teen Summer Reading Program” there at the top.  {Proceed to tell him all about the program.}
AT:  But . . .
Me:  Yeah?
AT:  If the theme is Beneath the Surface, why does it have a Pegasus on it?
I feel like I’ve had this conversation at least ten times a day since summer reading outreach began in May.  There’s about five seconds of connection about how great summer reading is and five minutes of “What does this mean?”
I promise that I’m not here to bash YALSA or CSLP for their choice of themes.  I know there are exceptional librarians out there who take the themes and run with them in amazing ways every year (I’m looking at you, Karen!) I also know that for those libraries that don’t have a Teen Services department or dedicated teen librarian, the special interest weeks and themes offer a chance to focus on and connect with teens.  And I absolutely know that none of us are legally obligated to use these themes and that many of you have developed amazing stand-alone programs without them.   That said, I really think that by diving in to themes we lose a lot of what’s most important about our jobs.
I’ve been lucky enough to assemble a robust and opinionated Teen Advisory Board over the past few years and each special interest week or SRP leads to a lengthy discussion of the theme.  They tolerated “You are Here” for an SRP theme a couple of years ago and “Geek Out @ Your Library” for Teen Tech Week was met with stoic skepticism, but things came to a head last summer when I thought “Own the Night” might just be the end of them (“That’s a prom, not a reading program,” was probably my favorite reaction.)  And then “Beneath the Surface” arrived.  There was literally a two-hour meeting where the poster was deconstructed in a way that I’m pretty sure could be counted as their thesis project for grad school:  “Jen, there’s a creepy face in the shrub.  What is the purpose of this?” (It’s true, by the way, take a look.) “Jen, there is absolutely no correlation between this theme and reading books to win prizes.”   
About an hour into the meeting, as my teens talked about taking to the streets to ask random people what they thought the “Beneath the Surface” poster was advertising, I found myself looking around the table and thinking that this will definitely be the last year I use stock themes for anything.  From now on I’ll celebrate Reading for the Fun of It for Teen Read Week and Connecting @ Your Library for Teen Tech Week.   Those are the kind of general themes that say exactly what we’re trying to accomplish.  And I’ll use my TAB’s awesome passion for coming up with a better slogan for our SRP that we can use for several years.

My eyes are still clear, my heart is still full, and I know I can’t lose if I continue to just be my goofy self in a genuine way with these guys, learning what they love and telling them about the awesome ways our library can fit into their lives.

Jen Scott Wills, MLS
I’ve served as the Teen Services Librarian for Boise Public Library’s Main Library for the past three years, though I’ve been addicted to libraries since I lived across the street from one as a kid. My teens always ask me if I actually get paid to do what I do (usually when we’re in the middle of some water balloon war or heated Mario Kart race) and I tell them yes and that I can’t believe it either. I’m obsessed with YA lit and read a little bit of everything, though David Levithan and Rainbow Rowell are definitely my spirit animals. You can find me at jen1nsw.tumblr.com or as jen1n on Twitter or in my office that the teens call my TARDIS. Because it’s bigger on the inside.