One of the very many things I adore about working in Teen Services, is that my overwhelming nerdiness is actually an asset for this job. I was one of those kids who learned to love reading after picking up a copy of Harry Potter, and I consumed each book as I literally grew up with Harry, Ron, and Hermione. I became obsessed: reading and rereading the books, going to midnight releases for the movies, dressing up as a Gryffindor student for Halloween, and bonding with friends who were equally as excited by all things Hogwarts. I’m sharing my fandom story because this fantastic level of geekery often pales in comparison to the level of fandom-love the teens at my library express for fictional universes.
We have a wide fandom community at our library, so keeping up with what the teens are interested in became a job necessity. By doing a bit of Benedict Cumberbatch-inspired detective work (looking at teen artwork, observing all the fandom t-shirts worn into our teen space, through conversation), I narrowed it down to the big 5 fandoms: SuperWhoLock (Supernatural, Doctor Who, Sherlock), Marvel, and my beloved Harry Potter. Once I knew what the teens were into, it was time to start programming!
Doctor Who is probably the largest, most passionate fandom in our community. At the height of the Doctor Who craze, when the show was turning 50-years-old in November 2013, we dedicated the entire month to Doctor Who-themed programming and called it WHOvember.
During WHOvember, teens screenprinted Tardises onto their belongings (all in Tardis blue, of course), engineered a Sonic Screwdriver using office supplies, and transformed their voices to sound like Daleks using GarageBand. At the end of the month, we celebrated the 50th anniversary by having an extravaganza/viewing party at the library. Teens created “bigger on the inside” Tardis greeting cards, made fezes (because fezes are cool), participated in a cosplay contest, and watched the “Day of the Doctor” simulcast special together. There was a lot of happy screaming and hugging when the episode started and ended, so make sure you notify library staff to expect some yelping if you put on a similar program!
Stitches & Witches was a Harry Potter-themed program where teens learned how to knit and started constructing their very own Hogwarts house scarf. I quickly realized that buying 25 sets of knitting needles for teens to keep would be ridiculously expensive, so I considered DIY-ing them. With the help of my colleagues, we found that ⅜ inch diameter wooden dowels could be put through a pencil sharpener to create the necessary pointy side of the needle. At 48 inches long and $0.75 a piece at my local hardware store, each dowel yielded 3 inexpensive needles! (If you try this out, make sure you sharpen the dowels slowly. I’m relinquishing all responsibility for any broken pencil sharpeners!) Next, I sanded the points down a bit, smoothed out the wood, ran each dowel along wax paper, and came out of it with a pretty good knitting needle. The program was popular, and I quickly realized that teaching a large group of teens to knit is no easy task. Some teens can grow frustrated with a skill if they don’t get it right away, so reassure them that knitting takes practice! If you can, have an extra knitting helper (or two) to walk the teens through the process. Everyone wants a house scarf so the teens are willing to learn!
Fandom Trivia Night was a program that covered all 5 of our big fandoms including Sherlock, Supernatural, and Marvel. As teens came in, I gave each of them a name tag to write down the fandoms in which they considered themselves an “expert”. I then encouraged the teens to choose their teammates wisely, since knowledge on a variety of fandoms was necessary to win. Once they settled down, I started up the PowerPoint, and the game began. In many ways, the program was structured as a traditional trivia night—teens chose team names, fervently discussed their answers before writing it down on their sheet, and strategically wagered their points. But the whole night was centered around fandoms, and that made a huge difference in characterizing the attitude of the program. With each fandom-themed question (e.g. What is the address of Sherlock and Watson’s flat?), the teens were so excited and determined to get the answer right. As a fandom geek myself, I understood the sentiment—they loved these universes and invested a lot of time learning about them, and winning this trivia night would prove it wasn’t all for naught! The winning team and cosplay contest winner won fandom-themed prizes, attendees met other teens who shared their fandom-love, and teens have since requested repeats of the program! It was a gloriously, nerdy night!
Fandom programming is a great opportunity to bring teens into the library and for them to socialize with other fans! It’s also a nice way to market other learning opportunities (since fandoms are inherently fun and popular), such as with the previously mentioned Sonic Screwdriver program we held during WHOvember. We taught teens about electronics and circuitry while also creating a project they genuinely wanted and cherished. If your goal is to make learning fun, fandom programming may be a good way of achieving that. Fandom culture is a wonderfully weird, creative, and rich study. Just make sure you have an open mind about the intensity with which teens love their fandoms and be willing to go full geek yourself!
Don’t know much about fandoms and have no idea what I’m talking about? Get acquainted with fandom culture by attending Comic Cons or scrolling through websites like Hypable.com!
Looking for awesome fandom-themed prizes? You can find some really good stuff at ThinkGeek.com. Let’s put it this way…I am now poor because of that website.
Still have questions or want to share your favorite fandom-themed program? Write them up in the comments!