Advocating for Craft Programs

We all want to give teens in our community the best service we can. Identifying outcomes and evaluating our programming is a key piece to advocating for program funding and staffing across the board. Sometimes this means pressure to only offer programs with the most obvious of academic and job skill building content. Yet, after a full day of school those types of programs aren’t always easy to sell to teens. Programs that are more superficially fun or creative, such as craft programs can offer many terrific outcomes for participants.

Many that turn up their nose at these programs already know those outcomes are there. Why do think that “making” is  suddenly trendy? Youth services librarians have been making things in the library for decades without this kind of recognition, but the sexism/politics behind all of that is another post.

This is how The Library as Incubator Project talks about makerspaces:

Makerspaces are collaborative learning environments where people come together to share materials and learn new skills… makerspaces are not necessarily born out of a specific set of materials or spaces, but rather a mindset of community partnership, collaboration, and creation.”

Now, I will grant that not every craft program done in libraries is in tune with the maker movement, but 90%+ of the good ones for teens are. So let’s look at some of those outcomes:

Teens are engaged in the library. 

One of the main reasons for doing programming is to engage teens in the library. If you want to know more about why we do programs at all I’ve written up my own programming philosophy here. If you want fewer behavioral issues, higher statistics, and a better relationship with your community then teens have to feel like they are part of your library and not just passing through for your air-conditioning or internet access. The more variety you have in your programming the more teens that will find something they want to be a part of.

Teens become lifelong library users. 

We want to create lifelong library users and supporters. If you look at the adults who use your library regularly I promise crafters are a big part of them.  Crafters use libraries to learn new techniques, evaluate craft books before making personal purchases, try a new type of craft, and to connect with other crafters. Most libraries host some sort of adult crafting get-together and we all have shelves of craft books in the collection. Crafters are lifelong library users.

Teens build Developmental Assets that will help them succeed in life.

One of the best ways to explain “fun” programs and their benefit is with the 40 Developmental Assets. The Search Institute has developed a list of 40 Developmental Assets for each age group. These are positive experiences and qualities that help influence choices young people make and help them become caring, responsible, successful adults. They include:

  • Creative Activities | Young person spends three or more hours per week in lessons or practice in music, theater, or other arts.

We know as school budgets get cut and as young people get older they have less opportunity to do these things for fun. Sadly adults start sending the message really early that kids should stop doing things if they aren’t very good at them. Ask second graders “Do you like to draw?” you’ll get a much different answer than if you ask tenth graders because of this social conditioning. We can give teens opportunities to explore these things just for the fun of it, and to express themselves with no grade involved.

  • Other Adult Relationships | Young person receives support from three or more nonparent adults.

I’ve been doing this for over ten years now and I’ve found that craft programs are really great for helping develop my relationship with teen patrons.  Why? Because when their hands are busy they are much less self-conscious about talking.  It also gives you a great way to start conversations with less talkative teens by asking questions about their projects “I really liked the picture you used for your project, why did you pick it?”

  • Interpersonal Competence | Young person has empathy, sensitivity, and friendship skills.

In her book I Found it On the Internet Frances Jacobson Harris says  “if play is a child’s work socializing is a teen’s”. Craft programs and the structured social setting  that comes with them have much to offer in teachable moments about sharing supplies, appropriate boundaries for content and use of materials, following directions, collaboration, and offering constructive criticism.

Teens are more aware of the library’s collection and materials that interest them.

Craft programs introduce teens to using the non-fiction collection  because there’s is something they find interesting and want to learn more about not just for school. Of course you can also promote books through crafts by doing specific projects that relate to popular books like The Hunger Games or zombie books  You can also sneak in literacy skills like following directions or describing their project to the group and they won’t even notice.

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