Teen Advisory Groups (TAGs) are a great way to get immediate feedback and increase teen involvement in your library service. TAGs may also be registered for volunteer hours through vinspired or your local volunteer group, which means that you can immediately establish a teen volunteer program!
TAGs are great for consultation on any new project or event you’re launching. They’re also an ideal pool from which to draw teen leaders or contributors spin-off projects.
Get permission from your supervisors and establish a scheduled meeting area
Establish a meeting place, a staff liaison (or multiple staff liaisons) who will attend regular TAG meetings, and, if possible, a food budget (free snacks are a good lure). It would also be ideal to have an events/projects budget for the group, but this may not be immediately possible.
Recruit young people:
The easiest way to recruit young people is to approach young people directly. Advertising the TAG within the library is usually the easiest way to go about this. However you may have a vision for your new TAG that extends beyond teens who currently use the library.
For example, maybe you’d like to have a ratio of 1:1 for teen who use the library : teens who don’t. Young people who don’t regularly use the library may offer unusual and valuable perspective on library services. If you want to recruit non-library-using teens, in-house advertising won’t be enough and you’ll need to engage in outreach (see Friday’s post for more ideas on where to do this!) in order to fill your group with a diverse mix of young people.
Before you start recruiting, consider: (1) how many young people you want; (2) the top and bottom age limits for recruiting (14-18? 12-19?); and (3) the demographic (preferably diverse) that you’d like to attract to your TAG.
Establish group structure:
This is important. You want the group to be youth led, but you also want to ensure that young people have some guidance, as many teens aren’t familiar with formal meeting structures.
First, help the young people in your TAG to establish some basic rules and obligations. Prepare role descriptions, notes, projects, progress managements, and ground rules established by other groups, and then get the group to riff on those. (For some ideas of role descriptions, agenda-setting guides and other helpful documents, click on “How 2 Guides” on the British Youth Council’s Resources page.) Once members of the group get the idea of how similar groups (such as Youth Councils) are structured, they won’t have much trouble deciding which parts of that structure they think are useful and which parts they’d like to disregard. Role structures that teens create may also serve as volunteer descriptions.
At this point it’s a good idea to establish a chairperson and vice chairs. I suggest nominations and a vote. The chairperson will henceforth lead meetings, while staff liaisons support them as necessary. Establish how often elections occur so that everyone feels that the structure of the group is fair.
Typical roles are as follow (though the TAG may want to invent some of its own!):
May eventually serve on sub-committees
Last, provide a Minutes Template. This will include date and time of meeting, attendees, a brief review of previous notes, and then items to be discussed. Under each item to be discussed, I suggest you put “Action Taken” or similar, so that each agenda item corresponds with a concrete step toward a goal.
Establish regular meetings
The TAG needs to decide how often, when, and where it would like to meet. Get them to decide this at the first meeting! Don’t forget to include attendance in the rules, such as how often teens need to attend in order to earn volunteer hours (or remain part of the group), how many consecutive meetings they are allowed to miss before having their group membership revoked, et cetera. Remember, while this is an optional activity, it’s important to have the young people take it seriously and turn up consistently, and having clear rules about the group will help them do that.
Now is also a good time to agree on other issues, such as whether they meet during school holidays, and summer holidays. I also recommend that you establish whether the group is going to want to be sent a regularly reminder of meetings (and if so, who will send them).
Have the TAG decide on a mission statement
Your TAG’s mission statement can be relatively simple (Southend Library Youth Forum’s mission statement is “to properly represent young people in the decision making of the library”), but having one helps encourage and guide the group. It also looks good on press releases!
Introduce the TAG to the library service and staff
The best way to foster a positive relationship between library staff and the TAG is to introduce them to each other! It’s also encouraging if heads of department, head of the library service, et cetera come along and just say hello and mention who they are–this really helps make the group feel acknowledged.
It’s helpful to give the group a small orientation on the library service within the first couple of TAG meetings. Show the TAG how the library service is structured, how teen services work, how books are selected and collections edited, and how events are planned. Give them a brief tour of the library and show them the library’s events calendar (they may be surprised by the business and liveliness of your library!). Giving the TAG a short tour and overview helps them to understand the structure and functioning of the library and can see where teen services do (or will) fit in.
The next step for the TAG is to generate a list of ways to implement their mission statement. Now is a great time for them to come up with as many ideas as possible, even if those ideas are outlandish! Encourage them to think big.
The best way to help the chair prepare for this is by discussing other teen projects with him/her/them, and bringing information about projects that similar groups and other libraries have done. This often acts to spark the group’s enthusiasm. Once your TAG start listing ideas, they’ll continue for the whole meeting (and possibly beyond–I often get emails from the young people I work with suggesting ideas for teen library services).
Now the group needs to decide which of their ideas are feasible, important, and actionable. Remind the group to choose a number of immediately actionable ideas. There’s nothing wrong with setting larger or longer-term goals, so long as those goals can be broken down into steps that can be taken at each meeting.
Some easy and achievable starting points include creating publicity for the group (press release and fliers–see Amnesty International Canada’s guide, How to Write a Press Release), getting involved in stock ordering, getting involved in displaying of books or other materials. If the group has a larger and more expensive project they’re set on, the first actionable item may be speaking to library supervisors for permission or applying for funding. If you need help finding funding resources, take a look at the list of the youth-led projects list under sources of funding for more information on grants for teens.
It’s time to put those ideas into action! The most important thing to concentrate on one step at a time and monitor progress to demonstrate how much has been done. It’s highly recommended that you create a progress chart for each of your projects so that the teens involved can see how much they’re accomplishing toward their goals. Your project bar may be as simple as a list they check off, or a long thermometer-shaped bar they colour in whenever a step toward their project has been accomplished.
TAGs may become when projects take a long time to come to fruition. It’s easier to help them stay confident when tasks are broken into small, accomplishable steps that can be regularly ticked off a list or filled into a progress chart. Seeing progress helps keep the group focused.
Additional Suggestions for Successful TAGs
It’s helpful to meet periodically with the chair and vice chair of your TAG to make certain that they feel supported and to hear any feedback they have.
If the TAG is large enough, you may suggest that they form sub-committees so that they may work on several smaller projects (or several smaller aspects of a larger project) simultaneously.
Here’s a big one: action is key. Try to ensure that the group doesn’t spend all their time sitting in one room, discussing ideas. Instead, get them moving around–writing press releases at library computers, taking a look at stock and helping with its selection, actively arranging displays, moving furniture, making posters, plotting games and events for the library, et cetera. Interactivity will help keep the group lively and focused.
For more TAG ideas, see YALSA’s Teen Advisory Group Resources page. For more on how to be an Adult Ally and helping young people discover how to lead their own group, see San Francisco Unified School District’s guide, Leading Youth to Lead.
Special thanks to Matt Holmes, Susy Chaplin, and most especially Lucy Bissell for all they’ve taught me about setting up a Teen Advisory Group.