I’m terribly bad at following through with my promises on here, aren’t I?  I believe that I said I would talk about how programs and teen advisory groups build community.  When I mentioned that, I was planning a short post because I was hoping to give a presentation on it at WLA this April.  Instead I will be helping facilitate a round table discussion.  No more qualms about talking too much.

I absolutely love having a teen advisory group.  As I said before, I looked at a lot of programming ideas before I settled on on TAG (I’m a dork, I like to say “TAG, you’re it!” on publicity.  The teens forgive me.) but after talking to Jackie I just felt like this was the right fit.  Our branch has a lot of teens and younger kids, a lot of families.  We lose the teens for a while in high school because they just have so much gosh darn work to do–I don’t think I would have gotten this group if they hadn’t started out in middle school last year.  Now they are in high school and they bring in their friends.  That means more teens using the teen area and the homework table.  More teens being a positive presence in the library.

When we have programs, our meeting room is right in the front of the library and everyone looks in to see why we are having so much fun.  If it’s a TAG meeting, we get curious gazes.  When we have a program, I make sure to put a sign in the window so that everyone knows what’s going on.  We celebrated National Gaming Day on Saturday and we got about 15 teens right at the start.  Later, families started to show interest and as the teens were game, we invited them in to play with us.  Moms, Dads and kids all came in and played Apples to Apples and Mario Kart.  I got to tell them why gaming in the library is so cool and they told me how wonderful it was to do something on that rainy day outside their house.  I invited everyone back to our inter-generational game and craft day in late December.

Building these bridges with teens, kids and parents is invaluable at the library. Giving teens a library connection to hold onto when they get into high school is key to getting them to return as library users when they become adults.  Having friends that advocate and sell library with the air they breathe helps that happen, as does seeing that friendly librarian face as they’re racing towards the lunch room at school.  I table a couple of times a year and offer candy for library cards.  I revel in the teens that can recite their library barcode numbers to me.  The ones that don’t have them want to know what all the fuss is about so I end up giving out applications with a “you’re going to need this for school” talk.  Teen advisory group members stopping by to say hi helps pave the way.

I also try to draw the community into programs.  When we had the neighborhood scavenger hunt last session, some of the locations were local businesses.  I took the opportunity to talk with the employees and managers of the businesses to let them know that they would have visitors and that there is a library, right down the street.  I’ve made acquaintances with some of them–we nod and smile now on the street–and one place has become very connected.  The employees use the library and the manager has offered to help with some prizes in another program down the line.  Full disclosure; I’ve been buying coffee and doughnuts there for a couple of years now.  I don’t frequent the other businesses as much and my coworkers don’t talk about the library as much as I do (they probably think I’m crazy ;)  I wear my badge proudly and talk about books and services when I’m out and about.  Stalkers be damned.  But my point is that if I spread my spending money out a bit, I would probably have a wider impact.

I don’t have to tell you that community is the lifeblood of public libraries.  Some libraries get sleepy, though.  They forget.  They serve the people who come in their doors with excellence, but don’t take the extra steps to bring in more (and yes, even when we have more patrons than we know what to do with, we need more advocates, more users).  What do you do to entice people through your doors?

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