February 25, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Top Chef Shenanigans: From Olives to Marshmallow Fluff – Teen Programming That Works

Ilsley Public Library, located in Middlebury, VT, kicked off its 2012 Teen Summer Reading program on June 22 with a fabulous evening of Top Chef Shenanigans, organized by the library’s fledgling Teen Advisory Group.  The event was part of a summer teen program series inspired by the Own the Night summer reading theme.

Top Chefs in action

In early spring, a group of interested teens recruited by Ilsley’s new librarian for youth services, Sarah Lawton, gathered to brainstorm ideas for summer evening programs for kids in grades 7–12.  Ilsley’s summer reading programs for younger children have always been a huge hit in this small college town, but the library has traditionally struggled to reach teens. Lawton, previously teen services librarian at Wilkinson Public Library in Telluride, CO, was able to connect with this age group by offering more volunteer opportunities and joining forces with the local public access television station, Middlebury Community Television (MCTV), on a number of intensive workshops.  “We were able to give older kids and teens positions of real leadership in the library and as filmmaking and technology mentors to younger kids,” notes Lawton.

The winning dish! Rebels Savory Stir Fry

As teens found a place to showcase and hone their skills, they became increasingly interested in developing programs for their peers. James Lincoln, 14, Carolyn Balparda, 14, and Harper Smith, 15, jumped into the planning for the Top Chef Shenanigans event, working with Lawton to develop a series of one-minute games in which participants could win their choice of ingredients—everything from olives to marshmallow fluff.  Each team created a dish to be judged by a panel of library staff and recent high school graduates. Halfway through the cooking process, teams were sent into the library to find an additional mystery ingredient to incorporate into their concoctions. The culinary outcomes were both delicious and frightening, and teens delighted in watching the judges sample dishes such as “Zombie Purple Monkey’s Mystery Noodles” and “The Kitchen Wizard’s Chocolate Surprise.”

Lauren Davidson, an intern at the local Addison Independent newspaper, attended the event and created a video report on the evening’s shenanigans.  Lawton was thrilled with the event and the media coverage. “The entire event was organized by youth, and it was wonderful to hear them talk about the evening in the video and really take ownership of their public library,” she says.  The library has two more summer Own the Night events planned for teens—a performance by a soundmixing musician and a live-action role-playing event inspired by dystopian fiction that the teens have dubbed “Librocalypse.”

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Dodie Ownes About Dodie Ownes

Dodie Ownes left the glamorous world of retrospective conversion and disco to jump on the library vendor train. Since then, she has been learning at the feet of the masters about all things library. Dodie lives in Golden, Colorado, where even the sign which arches the main street says "Howdy."

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