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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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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.

I am finally back at work in a normal capacity.  Nothing blew up while I was gone–a sign of good planning?  I’ll take it as such.  I had two volunteers come in yesterday and two will come in today.  They are getting things done in a serious way–I haven’t had a regular volunteer since last summer and now I have 4!  Soon I will be hard pressed to find things for them to do.

I just found out that I got the day off I needed for a long ride with friends.  I was pretty hyper about it yesterday.  Now I just have to book the hotel and train ride home.  On the 4th, a few of us rode the Mercer Island loop, which from my house is about 45 miles.  It was easy peasy, so I hope that this 100 miles a day ride won’t kill me.

What am I reading?  I finished Ready Player One and I am having the hardest time giving it away.  There are several people that I think will like it. It’s the future, 2044, and the world is really falling apart.  Classes are very separated, with those scraping by living in squalid stacked trailers and many squatting in cardboard shacks outside of the cities.  Wade Watts is a smart kid.  He takes advantage of all that OASIS has to offer, goes to virtual school and hides all his scavenged equipment from his aunt, who would steal it to pay the rent and for drugs.  He’s also a gunter, someone playing the scavenger hunt-like game that could win him out of his poor surroundings.  No one has found a clue in the last 5 years and many players are ready to give up.

I found it refreshing that Cline doesn’t pound the reader with the “future will suck if you don’t fix…” mallet.  The future is what it is, and while one of the contestants does want to use the prize money to feed everyone, it is easy to see that more than money is needed to fix the world.  Some dystopian fiction seems to bang away with an agenda, and while I feel that saving our planet is important, I don’t need an otherwise exciting book to preach at me while I am trying to enjoy it.

I am now reading Hellbent by Cherie Priest and I am loving it.  Great distraction.  I feel lucky that I get to read so many fun/amazing/interesting/provocative books right now.  And most of them aren’t out yet.

Had a wonderful, if too short, weekend off.  Two of my brothers graduated and I got to be there for one of them.  I have such talented siblings.  It was nice to spend time with my family and to take a trip with the Mister and the Offspring.  Totally missed the sun here in Seattle–it was patchy in Spokane–but at least it is supposed to get nice again tomorrow.  I am going on a visit to a high school tomorrow with some colleagues and I might see a couple of my teen volunteers there.  They are really doing a nice job for the library and one of them helped out at an author visit over the weekend while I was away.

One of my volunteers at University is applying for jobs with the library and I have been helping him with interview tips and letter editing.  He is a great kid too, graduating this year and going to the local university next year.  I hope all his hard work pans out and he gets a student position.  He gave me chocolates from Frans to thank me and I dutifully shared them with my coworkers (although they seem to be not taking any because they are my treat).  Help me eat the chocolate!  Please!  :)  And I can verify that they are really good.

The Offspring turns 16 today.  I can barely believe it.  I took him up to school this morning after getting him breakfast and chocolate milk.  That is our biweekly tradition, really.  I am taking him shopping in a couple weeks for most of his present.   We got to celebrate over the weekend with family and it was wonderful.

What am I reading? I keep skipping around right now.  I am still enjoying This Book is Overdue but am also listening to book 4 of the Bloody Jack series: In the Belly of the Bloodhound.  I super love this series and think about it when I am not listening to it.  The reader does a wonderful job in the audio version, doing all the voices, and there are many with a ton of different accents, with skill.  In this book, Jacky has returned to Boston to outrun a price on her head and goes back to the Lawson Peabody School for more lady learning.  On the day of a scheduled outing, she and her entire school are kidnapped and only Jacky Faber can get them out of it.  The details of the time are well researched and described, making the series a good read for those who like historical fiction, but also scratch the adventure itch for those who are Harry Potter lovers.  Give them a read!