To Theme or Not to Theme?


Library service professionals and the library world love themes. I love themes- they make our lives easier! Really, I mean, truly, you get a theme from the American Library Association or one of the summer reading programs, and then you have the basis for an idea and you can just run with it. Every Hero Has a Story/Unmask for summer reading this year? Anything from superheroes to community heroes to science to makerspaces. Geek at the Library? Show the world what you love.

I love themes.


What do you do when the themes stop becoming suggestions, and becoming something more? What do you do when the so-called “optional” events in teen services aren’t so “optional” anymore, and you hate what that year’s theme is?

If you’ve been in teen services for a while, you can pretty much tick off the big events by heart:

  • September: Library Card Sign-Up Month, Banned Books Week
  • October: Teen Read Week, Halloween
  • November: International Gaming Day
  • December: Winter Break
  • January: Youth Media Awards
  • March: Teen Tech Week
  • April: Drop Everything and Read, Dia de los Ninos/Dia de los Libros
  • May: Privacy Week, Schools start closing
  • June: Schools finish closing, Summer reading
  • July: Summer Reading
  • August: Summer Reading, Schools start

I’ve been a huge supporter of Banned Books Week (a misnomer but yea); I’ve written papers on it during undergraduate and graduate school, and I’ve done displays at workplaces. During my state conference this year, the controversy over the OIF Banned Books poster came up. This year’s poster caused an outcry on Twitter and blogs.  OIF came up with this alternative, but the original poster and the software to put yourself in the original poster are still for sale.

It doesn’t sit well with me, so I won’t be using it. We’ll work on the topics of censorship, restriction, and racial inclusion instead.

YALSA is a big one for teen themes: Teen Read Week (October) and on a smaller scale Teen Tech Week (March) are huge pushes. It’s like professional peer pressure- what are you doing for TRW/TTW? What do you mean you’re JUST doing a week of things? WE’RE doing a whole month!

Um, yea, breathe and take a step back.

First, no one but possibly your admin is keeping score on your programs. Don’t think that just because the library system next door is building kaiju the size of cars that you need to. And there is no set law that says that just because there IS a theme, that you have to FOLLOW the specific theme. Even YALSA says it on their website:

I do not like the theme; it isn’t popular with my teens. What can I do?
The general theme of Teen Read Week is Read for the Fun of It, and this theme can always be used in place of the more specific theme for the year. In this case, Turn Dreams into Reality @ your library encourages teens to read a variety of books, magazines, graphic novels and other materials for the fun of it. The most important thing is that teens are encouraged to read, no matter what the theme. So feel free to adapt concepts or activities to fit with your teens’ specific needs during Teen Read Week! Be sure to contact YALSA with any theme ideas for future Teen Read Weeks and encourage your teens to vote for the 2015 theme during Teen Read Week.

taken from the YALSA Teen Read Week site on Monday, July 13, 2015. All mistakes on theme names are entirely from the site. The 2015 theme for Teen Read Week is Get Away @ Your Library. Turn Dreams into Reality @ Your Library was the theme for 2014; Read for the Fun of It is the general theme for Teen Read Week. 

So, if the thought of planning programs around Get Away @ Your Library makes your skin go into goosebumps and not the good kind, then use the general theme. Or come up with your own- Huzzah! It’s Teen Read Week! We’re doing awesome teen programs based on BOOKS and READING! Come Celebrate!


And you know what? Unless there is someone in your library that is demanding that you actually DO something for a library world event (TRW, TTW, Banned Books Week, etc.), if you KNOW that you just don’t want to or can’t do something, be a rebel. JUST SAY NO.


Teen Tech Week falls during my teens’ spring break. EVERY SINGLE YEAR. I also happen to be at a library where the teens don’t stay around during spring break, and not by choice. They are on family trips to visit relatives south of the border, and any attendance at tween and teen programs drops to ZERO. So instead of Teen Tech Week, I focus on what audience I do have- the day campers from the Rec Center, and we do programs specifically for them. Are they teen programs? Nope. Are they tech programs? Nope. Do I have 80+ happy early elementary kids and an awesome relationship with the city department I’m sharing the building with? Yep.

The only pressure that’s there is the pressure you put on yourself. The themes that come down from the large organizations (ALA, CSRP, etc.) all have general over-themes that you can use, and even the smaller themes have huge variations of interpretation. And unless you have someone in administration saying, YES YOU HAVE TO USE THE THEME, I’m telling you that you DON’T. They exist as a tool to use to help kick-start your imagination. Don’t like it? Don’t use it. Doesn’t work with your teens?  Don’t use it. Think of something better? Use that instead.

It’s your library, your programs, and your teens. You know them best. Don’t let anyone tell you different.


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