One winter evening, I was preparing for my quarterly tween program. The shopping was done, the room was set up, and I was ready for a quiet evening with a small group. I was feeling a little melancholy. Most of our regular tweens have grown up into our teen program and our attendance hasn’t been high lately. I wasn’t expecting this program to be any different. I slowly shuffled to my programming room. To my surprise, there was a line of tweens and their families waiting outside the door. It was a program success that I wasn’t expecting and it taught me five important programming lessons.
1. A program’s success isn’t measured by the number of attendees
I saw this program as a success because my library had a large attendance for this program, but this success was only possible due to the time we spent in programs that were not well attended. When you have a program that is not well attended, it can be discouraging. Even though it can be difficult to only have a few kids show up for a program, I have found that the relationships I have built within small programs have helped to build lasting relationships that create regular tween patrons. As you do tween programming, remember that your attendance won’t always be consistent. Instead, focus on building relationships with your tweens. If you spend time cultivating a relationship with your tween patrons, they will be more likely to come back to the library.
2. Collaboration is key
This winter program was themed as a Star Wars holiday party. Over the summer we asked tweens what type of programming they would like to see. The answer was unanimous- Star Wars. The success of this program was possible with collaboration. After we asked tweens what type of programming they wanted, we collaborated with one of my coworkers who mentioned that her husband could come in and conduct a Star Wars Jedi training. This simple contact shaped this program. When it comes to working with tweens, collaboration is vital. Unlike other age groups, tweens have a wide range of maturity levels and interests. Be sure to collaborate with your coworkers and your tweens for ideas. This will help your program take shape and give you additional contacts, ideas, and resources you might not have had. More importantly, it will shape the program to your unique tween patron’s needs.
3. Be flexible to change
In the past, I have done programs where I have spent months planning a program. I had the best possible activities and crafts I could find. Despite this preparation, my activities didn’t fit the tweens that came. Instead of doing the activities I planned, they had more fun playing with a balloon and a box. For this program, the activities were more flexible. We had out a variety of levels of Star Wars trivia, scavenger hunts, and games. Having different options and levels helped to cater to our patrons needs. This taught me that flexible activities in a free flowing format that you can quickly alter to your audience is important to tweens. Have a vision for your program, but be open to changes and always have backup in case an activity does not work out.
4. Be tuned in to your community’s needs
My library’s winter programming is generally not well attended. When the program began, I went around and welcomed patrons and asked how they heard about our program and why they attended. Many of the patrons commented that they were there for our program’s theme but others commented that there was nothing going on in the community for kids. When I plan programming, I am guilty of only picking a date that works well for the library. This experience taught me that it is also critical to go beyond the library’s walls and to check what the community offers. This way the library can help to fill in the gaps to better serve tween patrons.
When I first started in my youth service position, it was obvious to me that I needed to advertise my programs, but I wasn’t sure how. Over the years, I have found that passing out fliers with a program description works well. For this program, we tried something new for tweens. On the day of the program, we set out a whiteboard with a description of the program. We had many patrons see the program description and come back for the program later on. This made me realize that I needed to offer more advertising that was specifically targeted to tweens.
By doing these things, I was able to reach more tweens with my tween programming.
As I navigate my way in the library world, I am still learning ways to better serve my library’s tween patrons. How does your library serve tweens? Is there something you have done to make your tween programs more successful?
Our guest blogger today is Pamela Groseclose. Pamela is a member of both ALSC and YALSA and is passionate about working with tweens at the Library. Visit her blog at tweenlibrarian.blogspot.com
Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.
If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.