Youth Program Development

**crossposted at Literature Reviews for Library Techs**


It is beneficial to get youth involved in the library culture.  In fact, if we accept that it is important to shape people when they are young, it is essential.  How do we go about fostering this?  What programs should be provided?  How do we go about attracting youth?  The purpose of this post is to explore what the library literature says about the development of youth programs at public libraries

The “Teen Zone” experience

Cathy Shay, having started up a new library, introduced programs that inspired little interest.  To this, she suggested that “we need to ask out youth what they wanted.” (43)  She and her cohorts decided that the best approach would be to conduct a short survey, with basically three questions:

  1. What event would you be interested in attending at the library?
  2. When would you be interested in attending an event?
  3. How would you prefer to be contacted?

The most significant result from the survey was that the youth wanted a plan to hang out with friends.  So, they decided to set up a monthly program called “Teen Zone.”  It was a monthly event where they gave “youth a run of the library without any adults, but with library staff there to supervise.”  So, they discovered that more important than the specific event or program being offered was the timing and the promotion of it.  They also promoted the event in the school newsletter.

They had a tremendous turnout the first month.  However, the turnout was much smaller in the second month.  It is essential to avoid assuming that the youth will remember, and to avoid resting on your laurels.  They also have found that attendance dipped during school holidays, and also when the new year began.  After a year of running the program, here is a summary of their results: (45)

  • Don’t hold events during the holidays
  • Ongoing programs may lose their luster over time, and it may be good to keep it fresh
  • Constant communication is key in keeping a program going
  • Keep asking them what they want
  • Having a set audience or key group, such as specific high school, using the teachers as a resource.
  • Target kids who like the library, not those who don’t.
  • Don’t compete with local youth centres as the youth who attend there and those who attend the library tend to be two different groups.
  • Don’t give up

YOUmedia Chicago

The Chicago Public Library sought to create a space for youth which would encourage them to engage with the library collection.  The space, created by the Macarthur Foundation, “was created with intentional spaces for hanging out, messing around, and geeking out.”  (33) Simultaneously, programs are made available to encourage student participation.

The main lesson, according to CPL staff, is that “a teen space functions best when the teen activity led by adults is geared toward what the teens are asking for, not what adults believe is best.”  (34) The dynamic requires a flexible and nimble approach on the part of staff.  While adults can run the programs, one program, Library of Games, has encouraged teens to run the programs.  The result has been that the retention is high.  It’s a program where teens develop podcasts about video games.

Communicating with youth in Wellington, New Zealand

Adrienne Hannan focusses largely on the process involved in connecting with youth.  For the events at Wellington City Libraries in New Zealand, she points out that it is important to be cognizant of the reality that there is much diversity within the youth demographic (32).  Therefore, she suggests you will need a wide spectrum of forms of communication with which you attempt to connect with youth, as well as a wide spectrum of events and programs.

Hannan suggests running focus groups consisting of youth to find out what their take is on libraries, and what library services or programs they like or would like to be introduced (33).  In addition, keep up with what other programmers are doing in your region.

Hannan discusses methods of communicating with youth (33-35).  She emphasizes the importance of having a web presence.  Blogs and other social media vehicles such as Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace allow for interaction with readers that static web pages do not.  Social media outlets give you a venue to meet youth where they are, and “taking your message to them.” She advises against using email as an initial contact method.  Generally, youth do not use email, as “it is not instant enough for today’s youth.”  She emphasizes following up with attendees after an event, as well as offering feedback forms with suggestions for improvement, to keep them interested (36-37).  Finally, print marketing methods such as flyers and posters are used.  It is important that it look “modern, edgy, youthful and professional.”

Also, Hannan says it is helpful to go into the community and find out what is provided by youth councils or youth organizations (35).  You might be able to piggyback off these events, or complement them.  They can also be used as a place to communicate your own programs.

Youth Advisory Councils

Teen advisory councils, where youth are given decision making power on what programs are made available for youth at the library, are a good way to introduce authentic youth participation.  Wilson suggested that questionnaires can be used to elicit information for the types of programs youth would like to have, as well as times and days for meetings and programs (446).  She suggested several questions for board members to consider at meetings (447):

  • How can we make library services more meaningful to YAs?
  • What changes do you feel should be made?
  • How can the smaller advisory boards get more YAs interested?
  • Does the book collection at your branch satisfy your needs?
  • Do you think YAs should have a greater role in book selection for the YA collection?
  • What kind of library programming would you like to see as a part of the planning?
  • How would you feel about creating a YA newsletter or literary magazine publication?
  • How do you feel about youth advocacy?  Would you like to be involved in advocacy in your community?

Wilson points out that it is important to have full administrative support if you are going to set up a youth advisory board (448).  Otherwise, it isn’t worth it to even begin the project at all.  She also reaffirms the five key elements necessary for success (447).  These include:

  • Responsible, challenging, meaningful action
  • Meeting genuine needs of both youth and community
  • Decision making opportunities
  • Opportunities for critical reflection
  • Group effort toward a common goal

Summary and Conclusion

There are several ways that youth can be involved in the library.  It is important, though, that the youth themselves have the say in exactly what programs and services are offered for them.  Focus groups, Teen advisory councils, and researching what other youth centres offer are all ways to find out about possible programs.  In terms of communication with youth, it’s best to meet them where are they are.  Use dynamic web platforms, including blogs and other social media outlets.  Posters, flyers, and school newsletters can be used to promote events.  Surveys can also be conducted to find out where their interests lie.  Asis and Macchion, Williams, and Savic all provide lists of youth programs that have been successfully tried.


Asis, Susan. “Types Of Youth Participation Programs In Public Libraries: An Annotated Webliography.” Young Adult Library Services 4.4 (2006): 26-30. Academic Search Elite. Web. 7 May 2013.

Bannon, Brian. “Youmedia Chicago: Connecting Youth Through Public Libraries.” National Civic Review 101.4 (2012): 33-35. Academic Search Elite. Web. 7 May 2013.

Hannan, Adrienne. “Communication 101: We Have Made Contact With Teens.” Aplis 24.1 (2011): 32-38. Academic Search Elite. Web. 7 May 2013.

Macchion, Felicity, and Natasha Savic. “Youth: An Exchange Of Ideas For Public Libraries.” Australasian Public Libraries And Information Services 24.1 (2011): 17-22. Library Literature & Information Science Full Text (H.W. Wilson). Web. 7 May 2013.

Shay, Cathy. “The Twilight Zone: Bringing Youth Into Libraries.” Aplis 24.1 (2011): 42-46. Academic Search Elite. Web. 7 May 2013.

Williams, Beth Filar. “Green Teen Programming.” Young Adult Library Services 10.2 (2012): 29-31. Academic Search Elite. Web. 7 May 2013.

Wilson, Evie. “The Young Adult Advisory Board: How To Make It Work.” Voice Of Youth Advocates 25.6 (2003): 446-448. Library Litererature & Information Science Full Text (H.W. Wilson). Web. 8 May 2013.


One thought on “Youth Program Development

  1. I did a similar but informal survey of teens for a library tech project in Abbotsford. First of all the local community centre had a teen centre with lots of electronic games and traditional table games like ping pong. The two main things that stuck out: first they did not know that the public library was free. Second they felt the most convenient library for them to use as at school. The activity that got them into the Clearbrook branch was Wii (this was a couple of years ago). Also a teen area that featured wi fi and a chance to talk in conversational tones wit friends plus quiet areas to do homework and study/ Texting etc also allowed. These programs all worked. You have to be careful that activities planned at the library are coordinated with other community events, community centres and schools rather than appear in competition.

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