Teens as Partners: Successful Teen Services

Courtney Saldana shared advice and ideas for successful teen library services a recent WebJunction webinar.

Erin M. Schadt /

WebJunction recently hosted Library Journal Mover & Shaker Courtney Saldana for a webinar on her area of expertise: teen services. The information she shared was very valuable and her enthusiasm for working with teens was infectious.

"I completely fell in love with teenagers," says Saldana. "I was astounded by their brilliance and their boldness and their ability to take everything that life is and go full steam ahead."

If you are starting or reinvigorating teen services at your library, she advises: "Before you jump into what your teenagers need, you need to double check what you think you know." A needs assessment is the best way to find out what teens want, not what you think they want. Saldana also emphasized the importance of forming a teen advisory group and making sure you deliver what they ask for, which establishes good faith between the library and teens and shows that their ideas are actionable.

Saldana highlighted a few successful services and programs that she has lead at Ontario City Library, CA; in particular how she worked with her teen advisory group and administration to create and then update a teens-only space in their library, much detail on tips to organizing a successful book festival and showcased the program Skills for Teen Parents (STeP). I highly recommend viewing the webinar recording to gain more insight into these three initiatives. Saldana provided best practices, advice and concrete steps you can take for all three services.

I completely fell in love with teenagers. I was astounded by their brilliance and their boldness and their ability to take everything that life is and go full steam ahead. — Courtney Saldana

As usual, the webinar's chat was very active (make sure to download the spreadsheet to follow along when viewing the webinar). Participants shared successful teen programs at their libraries: Tiffany Harkleroad wrote, "We did an event called Power Down, with no electronics, and the kids loved it!"

Lori Special responded, "My most successful programs were the 'unplugged' ones. Pimp Your Shoes, Deconstructed Chic and Write Your Mission. Fun times!" Other ideas from participants included Pokémon Go focused programs, video games, anime viewing and writing clubs.

Similarly in September we asked our Crossroads eNewsletter readers what services their libraries currently offer and the most common responses were teen-only spaces, gaming programs, and maker/STEM programs for teens. Many libraries also hold programs outside the library space and have teen advisory groups as well as book clubs and study groups.

We also asked readers about successful programs they have held for teens, and there were some great responses:

  • Sara Billiet, Kewanee Public Library District (IL): "3-D Printing classes on using CAD to make objects to print on a 3-D printer were very popular with young teens."
  • Keisha Parks, Cleveland Public Library (OH): "We participate in the National Teen Lock-in and it has been an extremely popular program. We are with the teens doing activities for 12 hours straight. Also, the gaming program is well attended and we have established some very good relationships with new teens because of it."
  • Michelle Mitchell, Franklin Park Public Library (IL): "Our Anime Club has been a huge success with our teens. It started with a small, core group, but in the past few years, under new staff 'management,' interest and attendance has skyrocketed. Although it is targeted specifically towards fans of anime and/or manga, the teens that attend are given a free, open and safe space to meet and discuss their interests, as well as explore their own artistic sides. The staff leader of this group has a mostly hands-off approach, letting the group dictate each meeting's activities (which anime they watch, etc.). She's there mostly to monitor their behavior (and make sure the anime they watch is not too graphic). It also helps that she's very into anime and the teens who belong to the group can relate to her on that level."
  • Holly Daugherty, McCreary County Public Library (KY): "We just recently started offering game night for our local teens. The first game night was a huge success with great attendance turn out and also with teen participation. We offered board games, video games, card games and had a pizza party as well."
  • Brooke Bumgardner, Bellaire Public Library (OH): "Teen cupcake wars! We provided plain cupcakes and a variety of frostings, candies, sprinkles and more to decorate with. The teens each made two cupcakes: one with a literary theme and one free theme. We put pictures of the cupcakes on Facebook. The cupcake with the most 'likes' after a week was the winner and received a tote bag cupcake making kit."
  • Laurie Solawetz, Monroe Public Library (WI): "Teen Clubs with teen leaders. We offer chess, monopoly, animation, photography, writing, drawing and more all lead by teen board members."

No matter what program you find works at your library, Saldana emphasized that, especially when beginning a program, it's the relationships and not the numbers that are most important.

"You are there to advocate for those teenagers, whether that means there will only be ten kids," says Saldana. "What's most important is that those teenagers recognize you as somebody that they can trust, and that they are building relationships in your library with other teenagers that they can take out of their regular school lives. So many of my teens here would never have met. They can go to school and be whatever they need to be in that school environment, but when they come to the library they know they can be themselves."

Webinar participants expressed frustration getting teens to the library logistically. One participant mentioned that a majority of teens in their rural community are bused directly home, so it's a challenge to get them to come to the library. Saldana replied, "If you can, especially if you've got those buses. How cool would it be to an agreement with your school district to program on the bus? Show them how to access the digital apps, set up a pop up library on the stop on the route that has the most kids getting off the bus."

Participants contributed additional advice on participation and on teen space use challenges, as well as how to leverage teens to help promote the library's programs to their friends and classmates.

See the sidebar at right for more resources that surfaced during the webinar. And you can listen to all the details for free when it's most convenient for you.

Top Photo of Saldana by Kelela Wakefield.

What's most important is that those teenagers recognize you as somebody that they can trust, and that they are building relationships in your library with other teenagers that they can take out of their regular school lives. So many of my teens here would never have met. They can go to school and be whatever they need to be in that school environment, but when they come to the library they know they can be themselves. — Courtney Saldana

Watch the webinar Teen Programming: A Mover & Shaker's Recipe for Impact and Success for free at your convenience.

Access Recording

Webinar Attachments

Related Resources and Links

comments powered by Disqus