Your library is great. If you’re lucky, you’ve got some flexible spaces that can be used for all sorts of different programs, from crafting to programming to gaming tournaments. But sometimes, don’t you just want to get out? Enter: field trips!
I work as a middle school librarian, so I’m used to accompanying my students on field trips. But perhaps you’re a public librarian and the idea of chaperoning your teens on a bus and then around in public strikes fear in your heart. What if someone gets hurt? What if someone gets lost? What if someone sneaks off and gets in trouble? It could happen. But it probably won’t. Fret not. You can screen teens to weed out any potential rule-breakers or trouble-makers. Your permission slip will help CYA in the case of an emergency. The buddy system works wonders. Even if you’re in a place where the teens have been set free (amusement park, bookcon, etc.) you’re probably okay. Your teens go out in public with their friends all the time and are probably so pumped about the field trip that they’ll be where they’re supposed to be, when they’re supposed to be there and doing what they’re supposed to be doing.
In 2013 the upper school librarian and I charted our first library field trip. We’d applied to be a part of the YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults Teen Feedback Session at ALA Midwinter in Philadelphia and were invited to bring along 22 of our most eager readers to share their thoughts and reactions to the nominated titles. We had a destination. All we needed was a permission slip, a bus, chaperones and teens!
The permission slip was probably the easiest part, since we are a school and already have a template. Your library may already one too. (If not, go to Google. They’re everywhere!) Perhaps it’s not specifically tailored to transporting and chaperoning teens away from the library, but it can likely be edited in a matter of minutes to indicate that parents/legal guardians are giving permission for their child to get on a bus (or carpool) and go with a chaperoned group away from the library. Be sure to include all relevant times (pick up and drop off!), addresses, and your cell phone number so that parents can reach you. By the same token, have the parent/legal guardian provide at least 2 emergency contact numbers and some basic health info., such as allergies and medications. You might already know if there’s a teen who has accessibility needs or dietary restrictions, but it’s always best not to assume. Make sure to bring the signed permission slips with emergency information with you on the trip.
Getting a bus is pretty straightforward. Figure out what time you need to be picked up, how long it will take to get to your destination (always build in 30 minutes extra), how long you plan to stay, when you’ll depart and what time you’ll arrive back. If you don’t have go-to transportation provider, be sure to call 2-3 bus rental companies for price quotes. If the trip you’re taking will require 2+ hours of travel in either direction, you may also want to consider a coach bus, which will allow for more comfort and a bathroom. When we were going to Philadelphia we had students arrive at campus at 6:15am for a 6:30am departure. The trip to Center City would take 2.5 hours (plus 30 minutes, JIC!). We wanted to get there for 9:30am so that our teens would have plenty of time to run amok in the exhibits before lunch with the other teens and the teen feedback session itself. We got back on the bus at 3:30 with 22 teens exhausted from their moment in the spotlight and from carrying around bags upon bag of free swag. A few quick notes on the bus: Always bring printed directions to your destination. Yes, there’s GPS, but it’s good to have a back-up. Make sure to get the driver’s cell phone number (and give him/her yours) before you get off the bus at your destination. That will make it easier to reconnect when you’re ready to depart, especially if they had to drop you off and then park elsewhere.
Finding a few more chaperones – particularly for a Saturday trip that would take the whole day AND require a very early morning – can be a challenge. At my school, we use a chaperone to student ratio of around 1:7 (definitely not over 1:10). When I first mentioned the trip to a few of the teachers, they seemed interested. When push came to shove, however, nobody wanted to give up their whole Saturday. Luckily, we were able to entice our part-time library assistant (who was hoping to be made full-time and wanted to earn some bonus points) into chaperoning. We had a few parents who expressed interest in chaperoning, but for this specific trip, I wanted our teens to have a bit more freedom, so I politely declined their offers, but kept them as back-ups. Secure your chaperones (and back-ups) as soon as possible.
Recruiting a group of interested teens was probably the easiest part. If your trip is worth having, they’ll want to go. If you’re working too hard to drum up interest, then perhaps the field trip just isn’t the right fit for your teens. For our trip, we were told that we could bring a maximum of 22 teens. When we announced the opportunity over 40 students eagerly responded that they were very interested (what book geek wouldn’t be?), so we created an application. Applicants identified which of the nominated titles they had read and then chose three books to write a paragraph about, evaluating the title and giving a recommendation on whether or not it deserved a spot on the final list. This helped us weed out teens that hadn’t read enough books to fully participate and gave us a chance to preview what they would say at the teen feedback session. For those who wound up going on the trip, it also gave the librarians a chance to make some recommendations on how to better present their feedback. Making final decisions on who goes and who stays at home can be difficult, so be clear about your expectations and any requirements. I talked to my students in advance about how not everyone would be able to join and that those who read the most books and had the best evaluations would be chosen to come on the trip. Inevitably, there aren’t enough slots for all of the wonderful applications, and some hearts were broken, but I had prepared them for that. In advance of the trip, I met with our attendees and spelled out the day’s schedule and behavior expectations for the exhibits floor (please and thank you required when speaking to booth reps., no running, indoor voices even when really excited). I also gave them my cell phone number (surprisingly, none of them have ever texted or called me!). For this particular trip, we also rehearsed having them deliver feedback and the logistics of the session.
Our first field trip was nothing short of amazing. Thanks to thoughtful preparation, it was smooth sailing from start to finish (even with an unexpected snowfall). I’ve never seen the faces of my teens light up as much as when they came barreling towards me with ARCs of upcoming titles from their favorite authors. Watching them confidently deliver thoughtful feedback on the books they had read made me so proud and it was a really great public speaking experience for them too! It was awesome to see my teens outside of library and “in their element” talking about their favorite (and least favorite) books.
In the years since our first big trip, we haven’t done anything near as exciting, but I have coordinated smaller annual trips to local book festivals, including the NoVa Teen Book Festival. When the “field trip” is in town or close by, I forego the bus rental and simply have teens meet me there. Some drive themselves, others carpool. I communicate in advance with parents over email and give them all the details and my cell phone number. We arrange a meeting point and time and check-in again around lunch. Often, they’re so excited to share books and juicy author details that they seek me out more often. I ask that they find me (and/or text me) before they leave. Their parents appreciate not having to give up their whole day to accompany their kids while safe in the knowledge that a familiar adult is present. I was probably going to be there anyway, so why not? If you haven’t ventured out of the library with your teens – yet – I strongly encourage you to do it soon. You can make it a big deal, like our trip to Philadelphia, or you can make it something small and less formal, like going to see the next big book to film adaptation or heading over to a bookstore author signing. Any way you do it, your teens will probably be grateful and it’s pretty neat to see them out in the wild doing their book thing!
Alicia Blowers is the middle school librarian at St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes School in Alexandria, VA. Don’t let her current location fool you, though, because she is a Jersey Girl through and through. She earned her MLIS from Rutgers University in 2008. An active member of YALSA, Alicia has served on the 2014 Best Fiction for Young Adults committee and the 2015 Margaret A. Edwards Award committee. She also serves on the board of Capitol Choices. Find her on twitter @aliciablowers and every once in a while on her blog The LibrariYAn. If she can’t be found in either of those places, she’s probably walking her dog, curled up with a good book, and/or eating cheese.