At Teen Services Underground we like to share cool programs. But what if you build it and they just don’t come? It’s hard to be a teen librarian when you don’t get much interaction with actual teens. I have held many programs and ended up with an empty room. It’s disheartening and it can be difficult to stay motivated and keep moving forward without the momentum of success behind you. So, here are some tips for staying motivated when you’re feeling like nothing is working:
- Partner up! I’m lucky to work in a large system, so there are many teen librarians with whom I can partner to get some face time with teens at programs. I have led programs at another branch when the teen librarian is gone and I am currently co-leading a monthly program with a colleague at a larger branch. If you don’t work for a system, try reaching out to other nearby libraries. Ask if you can sit in on a teen advisory group meeting or book club. You can also partner outside of the library by bringing programs or services to schools or other organizations.
- De-program. Programming isn’t everything. Talk with your supervisor about other ways to be successful as a teen librarian besides just counting attendance at programs. Are teens coming in to the library at all? The library is still serving teens by providing a place where they feel comfortable, even if it’s to use computers, do homework, or just hang out. If numbers are important, do periodic head counts of the number of teens using the library at any given time. Make sure the library is a welcoming space for teens by asking them if there’s anything you can do to improve or by consulting the YALSA teen space guidelines.
- Go passive. Passive or self-directed programming is a great way to engage teens that doesn’t depend on them getting to the library at a specific day and time. There are lots of different options here, limited only by your imagination and the logistics of your particular library operations. Some ideas include craft kits that teens can check out to use in the library, board or video games for use in a teen area, interactive bulletin boards, self-directed reader’s advisory, etc. Christie recently posted some ideas for self-directed programming to do over the summer.
- Age up or down. If you’re not making much headway with the traditional teen demographic (say, ages 12-18), see if you can target younger or older age ranges. I’ve had success in my library with programs for grades 4-8, with most of my attendance coming from the younger end. I’ve also done a program for teens and adults, which had teens coming in with their parents. And I know there are libraries that do YA book clubs for teens and adults or book clubs for new adults (ages 18-25).
- Don’t take it personally! No matter what you try, always keep in mind that it’s not a personal failing if you aren’t getting teens at your programs. There are so many factors (weather, school workload, parent issues, transportation, etc!) that might affect attendance. Even if you’ve had success in the past, all librarians experience low periods for any number of reasons. All you can do is try new things, re-align your expectations, and focus on anything in your job that is working. Remember you can learn from supposed failures as much as successes!
How do you stay motivated when expectations don’t match reality?