Here we are now: engage us

Across the country, public libraries have come to the realization that we’ve been giving an entire segment of our service population short shrift in terms of programming.

Yep, I’m talking about those kids who are too old for storytime and and too young for teen programs – the tweens!   Definitions differ, but let’s say they are between 8 and 11 years old.

We’re good at providing books for this group, and that certainly benefits the readers among them, as well as kids doing their homework.

But when it comes to providing enticing year-round programs – well, we sometimes neglect this age group.

There are plenty of articles, webinars, conference sessions, and blog posts about tween programming; anyone looking for great ideas will find plenty of them.

But what I’m pondering is how to fit tweens into our overall library mission in order to ensure that service to this age group becomes and remains an integral part of what we do.

Here are my questions and musings:

1. Who will provide the service – the children’s librarians or the YA librarians?

Really, it could be either one.  A 9-year-old is too old for traditional “kid programs” and is starting to think that the teen programs look much cooler – but she probably still reads books from the children’s collection.   So why not make Tween programming a collaborative effort between children’s and YA librarians?

2. How will tween programming fit into our library goals?

Two of the big initiatives at my library system (Los Angeles Public Library) have to do with “investing in new readers” and “helping students succeed,” geared at little kids and teens respectively.  So where do tweens fit in, since they’ve already learned to read but probably aren’t ready for (or interested in) our study skills workshops?

Tweens, like teens, want a meaningful relationship with their library.  Sure, they want to be entertained, but more than that, they want to be engaged.  And engagement means active participation, and active participation leads to creative thinking and leadership opportunities.

Creativity and leadership!  These are qualities that certainly contribute to school success.  And studies have shown that kids who use the library regularly tend to do better in school.

3. So how do we keep tweens from drifting away from the library during the years when they’re too old for storytime and too young for teen programs?

Engage them, engage them, engage them!

  • Ask them for their input – start a Kids’ Advisory Group (Port Washington has one!  Anyone else?)  Give the group some real decision making power – how should the summer reading club be run?  What kinds of programs would they like?  Should kids be allowed to work or read off fines?  They could even draft a Kids’ Library Bill of Rights!
  • Give tweens a forum.  Like teens, tweens like to share opinions, so why not let them blog for you?  Check out Ernie Cox’s ALSC Blog post on the topic.  Or even a branch newsletter would be fun.  Let the tweens help you create it.
  • In general, adding transliteracy* or science elements** to programming are not only extremely fun and engaging for tweens (and librarians), but they also strengthen vital 21st Century skills – and that’s sexy to stakeholders and donors.
The main thing is that we shouldn’t ignore tweens – but we shouldn’t haphazardly create programs for them, either.  We can ease kids out of childhood and into their teen years with grace and aplomb – and worthy outcomes having to do with greater enthusiasm for and engagement with the library, not to mention stronger transliteracy and STEM skills.

*Transliteracy.com defines transliteracy as “the ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media from signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV, radio and film, to digital social networks.”  For more on the topic, check out the blog Libraries and Transliteracy.

**STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) skills are hot right now!  Here’s an article from American Libraries on the topic.

About Eva Mitnick

I'm Coordinator of Children's Services at the Los Angeles Public Library. Bring it on!
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