If you have a Teen Advisory Board, you’re probably used to tapping them for ideas. My particular TAB is often a source of great ideas that I wish I could try, but can’t for various reasons. Other times, they come up with plans so outlandish, they might just work. Such was the case a few years ago, when my TAB asked to to a career day at the library. I was thunderstruck; my memories of my school’s career days are pretty boring–nothing to inspire a teen library program. But the teens insisted that they wanted a career day, and eventually they wore me down.
But how, I wondered, does one make a career day less boring? I thought I had an answer to this question, but in the end, this was a program that grew and changed as it was happening, and ended up being a wild success.
My initial thought was to do Career Speed Dating, wherein registration would be required, professionals would be given tables, teens would be divided into small groups, and each group would meet with each professional for a certain amount of time. For a variety of reasons (most notably that my teens are good at showing up for programs, but not necessarily registering for them), I scrapped that plan and went much simpler: I dropped the registration requirement, gave each professional a table and told them they could tell the teens anything they wanted about their job, and it became a free-for-all.
My planning process began in earnest in January, and I held the program in mid-May. The most time-consuming part of the whole process was deciding whom to invite. A word of warning: If you’re like me and don’t enjoy making phone calls, this is going require a big leap outside your comfort zone–but I promise it will pay off!
But whom do you invite? The sky really is the limit here. Who do you know who has a job? Anyone who works for a living can come talk about what they do. Adults love talking about their jobs, and teens want and need a low-stress environment to talk and think about their future plans. Thus, this program is a win for everyone!
To decide whom to invite, I asked my teens a simple question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I asked this many times and in multiple formats: Open discussion in TAB meetings; an open-ended question on my teen room graffiti board, on every social media platform I could access. Then, I started cross-matching the teens’ requests to people I knew who held those jobs. After that, I reached out of the box, and invited some more people. The thing is that anyone who has a job can help you with this event, and you should be as inclusive as possible. Consider contacting, for example, military recruiters, local government officials, or people who didn’t necessarily attend college. Not every teen wants or is able to go to college, but that shouldn’t stop them from coming to your program to get useful information and maybe even think about the future in a new way.
In my planning process, I was delighted to find that many adults want to talk about what they do for a living–and are willing to do so for free. Here’s who I invited, and all agreed to come for no charge!
- Recruiters from Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard
- Township Supervisor
- Police Officer
- Funeral Director
- Digital Forensics Specialist
- Teen Librarian*
*It can be tempting to do this yourself, but resist that temptation. You will have other things to do that day, and besides, your teens already know that you love your job. Find another teen librarian who loves their job and your teens will come away with a better idea of how awesome we all are.
When considering whom to invite, don’t forget to include your colleagues in your own library! Does your library have a librarian for government documents, archives, genealogy, local history, or another special collection? Ask them to come talk about their corner of the library world–it’s vastly different from yours. Also consider asking any of your coworkers who have home-based businesses like Tupperware, LuLaRoe, or Pampered Chef. Then, find out if anyone in your library has a hidden talent they can share. In my library, one of our circulation clerks was in a band and ran his own record label.
Once I knew who was coming, the rest was easy. It was a matter of setting up the room, publicizing, and waiting for the fun to begin.
Publicity, Setup, and Execution:
I publicized this event in all the usual ways, but I added two different things to my usual publicity scheme. I gave each teen in my TAB a flyer and challenged them to bring a friend. I also sent a flyer to each of the guidance counselors in my schools and asked them to help me publicize.
Before the event, I made a small booklet to give to attendees. The booklet had a page for each professional with a place to “rate your date” on a four-point scale: Love At First Sight, We’ll See Each Other Again, Just Friends, and Don’t Call Me, I’ll Call You; and a place for teens to write down interesting things they learned or questions or to take general notes about each profession. The booklet also included a tear-out page with a space for each professional to sign. At the end of the night, everyone who collected all the signatures was put into a drawing for a Target gift card. The booklets went into a bag for teens to collect swag in.
The day before the program, I called each of my professionals to confirm that they were coming. Even still, I had a couple no-shows on the day of the event, but I was able to roll with it and everyone had a good time anyway.
I gave each professional a table and told them they could tell the teens anything they wanted about their job, and, if they wanted to, they could bring swag to give away or any props that they wanted. It was fun to see what the professionals came up with: the funeral director brought casket samples and was a surprise hit; the recruiters had swag from their branches of the service; and the cosmetologist gave away makeup samples. The digital forensics specialist brought a laptop, made a fake social media account, and showed the teens how easy it was to hack. The professionals did a wonderful job of engaging the teens, and the teens had great questions and lots of fun.
45 teens and parents attended this event, which makes it one of the most successful programs I have ever run. Here are my top takeaways:
- Invite as many professionals as you can fit in your space.
- Consider all levels of training when deciding whom you should invite.
- Be flexible. For me, this program grew and changed as it was happening, and that’s what made it so successful.
- Not everyone that you invite will say yes, and some will not show up even if you confirm the day before. That’s okay.
- Remember to breathe and have fun!
I was initially skeptical about Career Day: Library Edition, but I’m so glad I stepped out of my comfort zone to do this program! The teens had a great time; it was an amazing chance for me to make connections both within the community and in the library; and it was a hit all around. As a bonus, it was incredibly low-cost: I made my swag bags from supplies I already had on hand and all of my professionals were willing to donate their time, so the only costs I incurred were a few bottles of water for the professionals and a Target gift card to give away.