Ask An Agent: How Do You Get Teens Through the Doors?

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You’ve got questions,  we’ve got answers! Our volunteer Agents are on the job! Here’s what they have to say this week….

Question: I’m in a fairly new position as Head of Children’s and Teen Services in a suburban public library (although I’ve worked in children’s services for 15 years), and am finding that tweens and teens are just not coming to the library in this community. What, in your opinion, have you had the most luck with in terms of getting these kids through the doors? Programs? Outreach? I’d really like to attract more tweens and young teens, in particular (get them while they’re young). I’m basically starting from scratch in this community, where teen services was never seen as important. What have you had the most success with?

Jake (Boone County Public Library) says:
My greatest success has been through going to the schools that these tweens/teens are attending and just setting up shop during their lunch hour. If you can offer them free stuff (literally anything) and they will swarm the table; but if you can’t offer them anything other than information, they’ll still come talk to you (just not swarm). I’ve had a weekly teen program for the last couple of years and numbers were dwindling, but since I’ve been in the schools we’ve seen numbers more than double (from an average of ~7 each week to ~20). Also, if you can get a group of teens (even a small one) to come regularly and advise you on what they want to see the library doing, they’ll (hopefully) want to tell their friends to come and hang out.
Obviously, there’s no “secret sauce” for teen services and every community is different, but this one simple trick has help me up my  numbers and added numerous teen volunteers to our ranks.

Jenni (South San Francisco Public Library) says:
I know what you mean about starting from scratch. Our library hasn’t done much for teens, either, so I have yet to see many of them darken the library door, and no one has done any programming for them. For our teens, the easiest way to get them to the library is to offer them volunteer opportunities.  There is a community service requirement built into their high school graduation, so many of them are wiling to volunteer at the library. We will use most of them during the summer for our summer learning program, but this gives me the opportunity to chat with the teens about why they do/do not come to programs.  It seems that many of them are just so busy – with extracurriculars, work, classes, family obligations – so a library program has to be really exciting or really useful to get them through the door.  I am working with one of our adult services librarians to make sure that we can provide programming that better meets the needs of our teens – information sessions about colleges or scholarships, opportunities for technology-related activities, and very occasional programs like our Iron Chef competition, which was by far the most popular teen program this library has seen in a long time.

Our tweens really seem to enjoy craft programs, game programs, and our book club.  I always make a point of asking the kids what else we could or should do at the library so I can find out what kinds of things they are interested in. Our duct tape wallets craft, for example, was so popular we used up all the duct tape in just two hours, and I had kids begging for more programs like that. When it comes to tweens, it helps to check with parents, too, to make sure the program is at a time that is convenient for them. I recently held my very first tween book club, and there was enough interest that I offered to hold the book club at its original time, 6:00 pm, along with an additional 4:00 pm slot if that would work better. None of the parents signed their kids up for the earlier slot, so now I know that a 4:00 time doesn’t work well for our patrons.

Natalie (Farmingdale Public Library) says:

We didn’t really have a huge YA section when I took over.  A few years in, we did a renovation and created a small teen room. I did both programs and outreach to get them in. Every spring, I take two days and visit the 6th or 6th grade ELA classes at the middle school to talk to them about the summer reading club. I also bring flyers that are given to every homeroom teacher to hand out to their classes to advertise about the club. I get my best attendance during the summer, so that’s when I do the majority of my programming. I aim for two programs a week, some hired, some I do myself.

When I first started, I created a survey with a box in our teen room asking the teens exactly what they wanted and tried my best to create programs based on their responses. During the school year is harder. I learned a great idea at ALA Annual in Vegas that the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh does called BAM. They do a visit at the middle school during their lunch period and am thinking about seeing if I could do something similar.

Sarah (Chicago Public Library) says:

I think the first thing to remember is that it takes time to build new teen programs. You may only get a few kids for the first few months, but word will slowly spread and eventually you’ll get bigger numbers.

I would suggest you visit as many schools as you can. If possible speak in classrooms rather than assemblies. See if you can set up a table at Open House Nights and things like that. Bring some small crafts or thing they can make or play with since teens are perpetually bored.

I would also suggest making as much time to be physically available in the teen space as possible. Start conversations with them. If I see new teens looking at books I try to go over and just say, ‘Hey, I’m Sarah, the Teen Librarian, can I help you find something?” if they say no – and they usually will – I just add, “Okay, cool. I’m over there if you need anything.” I’ve found that having a single in person interaction with a teen is key. Once they’ve exchanged words with you, even a single sentence, they are much more likely to talk to you again.

I feel like its the same with programming. I try to have stuff for teens to do more often then not, and I just know that a lot of the time I won’t have anyone show up. But establishing yourself as a fun place to go that isn’t “boring” is key to being a place teens want to be.

 

Thanks to our volunteer agents for the awesome answers. If you have a question about anything teen services related ask it here! Your question will be featured on the blog with answers from our agent volunteers or TSU team members. If you’d liked to be a volunteer agent, please submit your info here.

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