It’s official. We are no longer the new kids in town. My colleagues and I know many teens by their names, hobbies, and vacation plans. We have confiscated skateboards and basketballs with shakes of our heads and, “Come on guys, you know better”. We routinely host an average of twenty teens for our weekly DIY Teen craft program and a dozen at our Teen Screen movie programs. Nearly every book from the Recommended Reads list is checked out, as are books one and two of most series. We are slow on Saturdays, but slammed on Sundays, regardless of the pool-worthy weather outside.
We are Gum Spring Library and we are officially a community resource.
Our programs, planned with no idea as to their potential popularity, have been wildly successful (except the showing of Up which only had one attendee, which makes me worry that our future animated film showings won’t be well-attended either). Crafts, (non-animated) movies, and Teen Cuisine (learning to read nutrition labels, chop foods, and follow recipes) have all been met with enthusiasm and repeat attendees. But the overwhelming number of our attendees are 12-14 years old.
This realization that tweens are our most frequent Teen Center users has forced us to look closely at our upcoming programs. Since September, October, and November programs have been on the books since late May, we cannot remove or add anything. Instead, we can only tweak what is already planned in order to make it appeal (and be appropriate) to a certain crowd. For Teen Read Week (Seek the Unknown @ your library), we are hosting Blind Date with a Book, which encourages teens to check out a book whose outer layer is concealed, with the hopes that they will try a title they otherwise would never have picked up. But if the current trend remains the same, should we self-censor the titles we choose to wrap up so we don’t unintentionally scar a 12-year old-girl with the scathing language of Sherman Alexie’s incredibly well-written and powerful book Flight (Grove Pr., 2007)? We want to expose program attendees to great books, but should we sacrifice titles with mature or jarring content just in case a younger teen picks one up?
In September we are hosting a series of SAT prep workshops and seminars for teens, and have already been asked by numerous parents if their 12- and 13-year-old children are allowed to attend. What we thought was going to be popular with high school juniors and seniors is of real interest to our tween patrons. Should we restrict the attendee age to high school sophomore or older, or allow any teen? Will letting younger teens attend keep older teens from seeing the programs as productive?
Tweens are an often underserved demographic in libraries, as are teens as a whole, so my colleagues and I are very happy to have so many of then attending our programs. Planning tween-specific programs in conjunction with (or at least with advice from) the children’s librarians will be very important going forward. On the other hand, keeping the space relevant for older teens is just as important. How can we welcome both, without giving either end of the age group an advantage over resources, programs, or attention? One way is to ask the age of all patrons. On many occasions this summer we have asked children to vacate the game room because they are not old enough, just as we have asked 19 and 20 year olds to leave because they are too old. Maintaining the age restriction of the Teen Center takes time and effort, but the teens who qualify to stay in the space usually respond with appreciation. No babysitting, no being babysat. Welcome to the Teen Center, where you are responsible for yourself.
Fresh Paint traces the development of teen services for a new public library in an underserved community.
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