At my rural library, teens come to events looking for fun and socialization. There’s not much else to do in town (when I was in high school, I’d hear about people going to hang out at Walmart for “fun”), so I try to provide as much entertainment as possible at my events. This past year has been hard on my teens–many of them hang out digitally already; they weren’t really looking for more virtual options. And I missed being with my teens in person too. So finally being able to provide events in-person again, albeit outside, was exciting.
So…of course the first day scheduled for an outdoor event was overcast.
It will be fine, I assured myself. The hourly weather report said what little rain there was would be over with an hour to spare. Yes, I had a rain date, but we always have better attendance on the originally scheduled day. It’s the first event, don’t cancel, it will be fine, have faith…
So, of course, it started raining right as the program was to start.
On the schedule was Werewolf, an in-person party game that is a precursor to Among Us. Another version’s called Mafia, but we’re sticking with the Tails & Tales theme this year so Werewolf sounded fun.
So here I was, with a game that recommended about 6-7 people minimum, rain on the horizon, and too late to easily cancel with people driving 15-30 minutes to get here.
I did what I feel most of you are probably experienced with now–I improvised and adapted. I had a fun card game (Selfish) ready as backup. With the amount of people I anticipated (at this point, less than ten), I made the executive decision to clear out the kids’ area to make enough room for a large, spaced-out circle of chairs and stuck my mask back on to model the behavior I wanted to see from them (since we’re not allowed to tell people to wear masks anymore). Most importantly, I kept a positive spin on things as teens trickled in.
We ended up with seven teens, four regulars, a younger sibling that was finally old enough to join in, and her two friends. Just enough for our originally scheduled program, which ended up being a lot of fun! Afterwards, they discussed ideas for new roles that would be fun to include in the future now that they are familiar with the game, and expressed an interest in doing it again.
I’m not going to lie, seven is low for our teen summer reading program. We’d gotten to where we were comfortably between 10-20 on most teen summer reading programs. This knocked us back to, well, still better than we were when I started a few years ago, but not by much. I don’t know if that was part weather, or part trying to get back to the swing of business as usual. But while numbers are important, I think we’re going to be ok. As teen librarians, I believe we’re better prepared for working our way to normal than most other programming librarians assigned to other age groups. We’re used to doing the programming equivalent of throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. We’re used to improvising.
The saying goes: build it, and they will come. For teen librarians, at least, that is a lie. It takes time and trust to build a relationship with teens that will keep them coming back for more. My personal goal with teen programs is to have fun. To get my hands dirty right there with them. It’s what I’ve built my “brand” on as a teen librarian. Make yourself a place for reliable entertainment and understanding, trial and error without pressure to succeed, sympathy and guidance (when asked for), and your teens will keep coming back–and they’ll bring their friends! As most of us are working our way back up from the hit we’ve taken, don’t worry about the numbers. Be patient. We’ve gotten there before, and we’ll get there again.
Tonight is Jeopardy (with an animal theme, of course). Next week is a water balloon extravaganza. July I’m going to provide quirky games and Budget Busters (my tabletop RPG to teach budgeting, which THEY have requested to repeat multiple times as soon as in-person is possible). This fall, I’m going to work on bringing TAB back to full membership numbers and work with my local school librarian to spread the word about my programs. I’ve got authors and teachers lined up for writing workshops as soon as we have the go-ahead, plans for new riddle quests, and for rebuilding our teen Homeschool Hangouts program. I’ve done it before, and I’ll do it again. And so will y’all. Just give yourself time.