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I started my Teen Advisory Group last year after looking at several options and talking to a friend about her group. My branch had a lot of requests for teen volunteer positions and no history of regular teen programs.  When I came to work there, it was during a rather unsettling reorganization.  None of us was doing much, and I got a few extra responsibilities that put a serious cramp in my ability to plan anything for teens.  By the time I was able to train someone to take most of those responsibility off my hands, it was summer.  The time was perfect to plan… something.

I considered a couple of different things.  Weekly programming seemed like an option, but keeping things fresh could be a problem and we don’t house our region’s gaming equipment, so getting it regularly would require more driving than I wanted.  Then I talked to my friend in another system about her teen advisory board and it sounded like the right fit.  I didn’t have any funding yet, so I thought I would start with a once a month meeting.  Now that timing seems right.  We have supplemental meetings when we need to.  And now we have funding, at least for this year, so they get to have pizza.

For the planning, I asked the librarians at the Teen Center for the forms they use for their Teen Center Advisors; an information sheet and a contract with a place for students and parents to commit to the time responsibility.  I edited these forms and sent them to the local high schools and put them out in the teen area.  I offer service learning credit for participating. Despite the fact that all the forms disappeared, I still had that moment where I didn’t think anyone would show up.

Instead I had 12 teens at the first meeting, and all of them stuck with me through the first year (two sessions, Sept-Dec and Feb-May).  We planned an author visit, celebrated National Gaming Day and helped with an all ages winter family day.  In our second session we made two videos, one for the ALA Why I Need My Library contest, the other to support our Steampunk Summer theme, and planned a community scavenger hunt.

I realized very early that I had to have an agenda and that it helps to write it up on the white board where everyone can see it.  I have a couple of strong personalities in my group and I’m still learning the best way to channel their enthusiasm.  But having a clear agenda with a few ideas for projects helps a lot.  I try to make sure the ideas are the teens, but within the limits of what I can do at the library and as relevant to library ideals as possible.  I was amazed by how many of those ideals the kids got when they made the Why I Need My Library video.  When we planned the scavenger hunt, it came about because of a box of prizes that I had that should be used.  I asked them how I should give them away, we brainstormed and the scavenger hunt idea was born.  They created the posters, helped me with the clues and the structure and helped with the program itself.

I require them to communicate with me by email.  Otherwise I would have to make 12 phone calls every time I wanted to talk to them. They have to write a blog post every month.  I’d say that is the biggest challenge we have is getting those in from a couple of people.  In the new session that just started, I introduced a log sheet for each participant to keep track of their hours and blog posts.  That way they can all see what’s expected and how they’re doing.

In my next post, I’ll talk a little bit about TAG’s, programming and community and how the library can build stronger ties to it’s neighborhood through TAG activities.

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