Teen Advisory Groups. Every Teen Librarian knows these groups are your best resources. It’s a way to get your finger on the pulse and find out what the teens in your community really want. But how do you get one started? How do you run one? How do you get the most bang for your buck?
I’ll admit, I had a few false starts when starting up my TAG. I remember how miserable my very first attempts were and how much I wanted to go cry in a corner afterwards. I tried to keep my questions for on point, but get anything out of them was like pulling teeth. They would literally sit and stare at me like this
After a few meetings of this, I decided I didn’t have the right kids; they were only there for the community service hours & weren’t really invested in the library. The second time around, I waited until I had formed a relationship with some of the teens first & started asking questions informally. Once they realized I would listen to them, they were more than eager to come.
I run my TAG pretty loosely to be honest. I don’t have officers or anything like that. We meet once a month for 90 minutes. Most months I come in with a list of things I would like to discuss and we get through what we get through. Some of the things I discuss with them are Summer Reading Prizes, the teen website, marketing/fliers/social media, and programming. I’ve been using a bound notebook to write down each month’s agenda and notes from the meetings. This has been really helpful for me to go back and see what we covered/what wasn’t & what the general thoughts were.
Sometimes, the teens do get a bit out of hand/chaotic and leave me feeling like this
I’ve found that our new house rules are helping though. There’s a clear cut time for social/snack time at the beginning and no one is suppose to speak unless they have the ducky. This ducky is used mainly to help stop them from talking over me and each other. I don’t mind if they got on tangents that are on-topic, but more often than not they’d derail taking us WAY off course. Or they were holding side conversations while someone else was talking. My new thing is that instead of me trying to yell/overpower them I downloaded an app for my phone that has sirens and other loud noises and hooked it to a bluetooth speaker. I haven’t had to yell once since! They absolutely HATE the tornado siren I usually play and quiet down if they see me reaching for the phone. You could also try flashing the lights, raising hands, or sitting in silence if you don’t like that idea. They all worked to a point for me, but my crowd is super rambunctious sometimes and needed something a little more powerful.
I tried to have a fancy advisory group at first. I was all set to bring in food every month and chat it up with them about how they wanted to change the library for their good.
What I thought it’d be like:
What it was actually like:
What I got was crickets, and most times “Oh, that was today?” replies when I’d go in the teen room and try to bribe someone to join me for a meeting. My first reaction was to disband the idea completely and instead pop into the teen room every now and then for impromptu chats to get feedback and suggestions. Teen Room Chats are how I engage the ones who don’t really want to be committed to meetings, but want to get their opinions heard, and those go pretty well. Once a month, I come in and just ask for a their attention for about ten minutes. I let them know what’s going on from my end and ask them if there’s anything they want me to know from theirs.
Having the chats, helped me identify the ones who did want to have a more in-depth experience, (or who didn’t think they could tell me everything they wanted to say in under 10 minutes). These teens also needed a few service hours to fulfill school requirements, so I figured it was a win-win, and a way for me to get them thinking about service, so I invited them to join me for the “service club” meetings instead of “advisory group”. Hitting two focuses, service and advisory, seemed daunting to me at first, but really it’s worked out pretty well. The conversations about our service activities sometimes wind around to corresponding programs, and it kind of helps me streamline our thoughts. It has also united teens who normally wouldn’t engage with one another, so there’s that.
In the past I used to feel like I had to always have a serious schedule of things to address, or that I needed to really rein them in if they were on a tangent, but then I realized that if they are coming in having a discussion, then that’s what they needed that day, and I try not to freak out anymore. Like Andrea’s group, they do have their days where they are all over the place, and I’m sitting there like this
But overall, they’re a good group, and they run their meetings pretty organically. I do bring in a calendar each week and remind them of any upcoming dates of interest (tech week, read week, etc), to see if they have any suggestions. Sometimes it’s just a rattling off of program ideas, and other times it’s just discussions in general. And usually, if I let them talk for a while, they end up coming up with something brilliant as a result. Go figure. For things the club doesn’t address, I double-back with my Teen Room Chats.
I waited about 8-9 months after I was hired to start the Teen Advisory Group. I had a grant I was working on so it was easy to push it off to the side. I was glad I waited because it gave me time to get to know my community and talked to some of the teens I would see around the library. I scheduled my first meeting and I had about five teens show up and they just kind of stared at me.
I let them go after about 45 painful minutes. I had them fill out a bland questionnaire asking what they read, what they wanted to see in the library, what they wanted to do. I think I was as nervous as they were. I held another meeting the next month. And another. And another. Before I realized it, it was summer reading and I had a great group of about six kids. They had helped picked out the movies I showed that summer. I was so excited!
After that first summer reading program, I gained even more kids and they decided to plan their own summer reading program (which you can read about here
and see here
). After that first summer, I haven’t been able to capture the magic. The TAG just gives me ideas on what programs they want and prizes for the summer. They always want to do something like “A Summer to Die For,” but they are just too busy.
I hold TAG meetings once a month. I have an agenda that I go over with them. Over the course of the past year, I have been making them take notes and keep track of things themselves. I did this because I still have those original kids from Spring 2012 and half of them are going to college this fall. I wanted to start helping them become responsible for themselves and foster some independence. It’s work for almost ALL the teens. I have one “slacker.” The teens are pretty respectful of each other. If they tend to talk and not listen to each other, I make them name players on my favorite hockey team. This actually keeps them in line.
I feel like my TAG is headed for some changes in the next year. At most, I had 13 teens. Seven are graduating this year and four more next year. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but it has been a great ride.