Lessons Learned From Teen Read Week: 2015

Several months ago, my teen services manager asked if I wanted to handle Teen Read Week at our library this year.  My response was an enthusiastic YES, followed by many more anxious questions about what she’d done in the past, what she was expecting this year, so on and so forth.  Her response, across the board?

“Whatever you do will be awesome.”

This is both extraordinarily exciting and almost paralyzing to hear. I’d gotten started planning and implementing programs over the summer, but Teen Read Week is (duh) a whole week, and I wanted to do it right.  I started by coming up with a theme; the ALA theme this year was Get Away @ Your Library, which is lovely, but my library prides itself on developing its own original theme for events like this, and also my manager likes to connect TRW in some way with what we did over the summer, so as to keep the energy flowing from one big event to the next.

I settled on Teen Read Week Invades – a sci-fi/alien abduction theme, loosely based around our similarly sci-fi Terra Nova SRP.  I planned a whole week of alien literary activities, including a dramatic reading of War of the Worlds, Life-Sized Space Invaders, and specially themed book club meetings.  I made all the marketing materials and advertised the heck out of it, starting as early as the back-to-school nights in early September.  I was excited to be in charge of a whole week of programs.

No one came.

Poking around a bit on other librarian support and resource sites, you can find that this is not an uncommon problem with TRW – it’s at an awkward time, right around midterms and finals, and at least Illinois has a major annual conference that usually coincides with it.  But it was still extremely deflating to be so pumped up about something and have it fail so utterly.

(I have been told since that this isn’t a mark of failure, and further thought on my part leads me to think that my programs themselves were solid ideas; this was simply not the right time to put them on, as they could have felt too much like homework in the midst of a week already saturated with midterm exams and projects.  I’ve stashed all my prep materials to try at another time, and I’ll certainly report back if I have more success.)

I bookended the week with two programs that WERE successful, and one in particular I wanted to talk about – a Book Bingo Card with alien/sci-fi themed tropes and character types, and a book swap party to conclude the week.

Book Bingo: Fines are a huge problem with our teens.  The late fees on video games especially can be killer for them, since a dollar a day racks up really fast.  As a result, many of our teens come to the library to use our resources but never check things out; I’ve been having trouble inspiring interest in my book clubs because, in the words of a teen, “I can’t check the book out, so what’s the point?”  I’ve been looking into ways other than paying their fines off that teens could get out from under these prohibitive costs, and when I floated the idea of the prize for TRW Book Bingo being a partial fine reduction, I got a much more positive response from the business office than I anticipated.  Teens who scored a BINGO on their card and turned it in to me by the end of the week could get up to $10 in fines removed from their card, as long as they had a card from our library and the fines weren’t replacement fees.  Teens with no fines, no card, or a card from a different library could win a pass to the local movie theater.

This was really successful – I made sure every teen I saw that week got a bingo card, and of those I got back sixteen (which may not seem like a lot, but in terms of participation this is great for us).  I was a little disappointed that some teens with huge fines wanted to opt for the movie ticket instead, but I can’t say I’m surprised; if I do something like this in the future I may offer the alternate prize ONLY to teens who meet the above criteria.

I loved how this turned out as well, because I could hear the teens working on the cards, discussing answers, debating whether something fulfilled a trope or not and then presenting their finished cards as a group to me.  It’s so hard sometimes to get teens talking about what they’re reading, or interested in reading something new, that overhearing active literature discussions filled me with total librarian glee.

Abduct-A-Book Book Swap Party: If you feed them, they will come….and take your surplus books away.  We have a cabinet overflowing with extra books, many of which are duplicate graphic novels and ARCs from Penguin Random House, and just generally a great selection of books.  I brought pizza, soda, music and free books, and even though no one brought books to swap themselves (I had a couple kids look terrified by the prospect of giving away their beloved books through the week, so I’d done a lot of reassuring that they of course didn’t have to give away anything they didn’t want to), 3/4 of my pile was gone by the end of the day and I had the satisfaction of seeing the kids flipping through new books and comparing what they’d taken.

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In the future, I’ll probably lean more towards these passive-type programs for TRW; things that are more pop-up in nature, that teens can drift in and out of at will, and more things that go up on Sunday and last all week (next year I’d like to try an interactive display that grows and changes through the course of the week).  And now I have a week’s worth of programs in my back pocket, for when I have a day that needs filling (I’m still certain our podcasting group would get a kick out of the War of the Worlds script, given half a chance).

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