Last year I wrote about starting a Teen Advisory Group (TAG) in your library. Here is some further guidance to help you out.
+Provide snacks, drinks, and sweets. I highly recommend providing some form of protein-based snack, as it prevents blood sugar levels from dropping too severely.
+Have a reliable teen take notes. (If no one reliable is forthcoming, you may always take them yourself). The notes should include a list of who’s present at the meeting (pass around a clip board so teens can sign in and provide some form of contact details), whether previous minutes (if existent) are agreed to or need further discussion, and discussion topics for the day. It should also include actionable items below the discussion topics. For example, if teens want a bulletin board in the Teen Zone, so the actionable steps would be comparing bulletin boards, coming up with an estimated cost, and applying for funding from your library or raising the money. I or one of the teens usually type up the notes and then send to the group. The teens have also agreed to make the minutes accessible to staff (via our Intranet), which means that staff are aware of projects the TAG is working on.
+Give the group about 5-10 minutes to settle in and chat with you and each other. This allows anyone who’s late to straggle in and provides some social time for the group.
+Even a group of 10 young people can turn into a total rabble. If you’re having trouble keeping order or generating a coherent discussion, you can always divide them into smaller groups of 4-5 (or even groups of 2-3) and give them about five minutes to devise answers to the questions. If you’re having repeated problems keeping order in the group, find an amenable member of staff who can attend a few session to help establish some order.
+Provide a break. If the session is 60+ minutes long, a break in the middle that gives the teens (and you!) the opportunity to walk around, stretch, and be loud can really help to diffuse some tension. The first half of the meeting will generally be more focused than the second half, so try to get the important stuff in there first!
+Invite amenable members of library staff to parley with the teens. This can help shift both staff and teen perceptions of each other, and can help library staff to become more aware of teens’ perspective.
+Friendly managers may be willing to meet with the group to involve them in library processes. For example, a supervisor who buys DVDs for the library spent a TAG showing the group how he selected DVDs and getting their opinions on which ones to purchase. The group heavily influenced the DVD stock selection of that month!
+Don’t get discouraged if it seems as though the group didn’t achieve too much or often veered off topic. When you receive or type up the notes you’ll be surprised by exactly how much was agreed upon. The library isn’t school, and the group needn’t be 100% on-topic all the time in order to be effective.
+Don’t assume teenagers know how to take meeting minutes effectively! I have a notes template that I had out to note-takers at our meetings. It’s relatively simple but keeps note-takers on track. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like a basic notes template for these meetings.
+Don’t let the group be too vague or let them take on too much at once. Many teenagers are still learning how to organise and prioritise. Guide them through the process by nudging them to choose one achievable project first. If they have their hearts set on a larger, longer-term project that will take more time to achieve fruition, encourage them to work on some shorter-term, achievable projects as well. That way they continue to see results of the group. Some longer projects (especially those that require money and/or vetting by management) can take months to come to fruition.
+Don’t go into a meeting without a board (or large pad of paper) to write on! Visual aids are a big help when brainstorming. Don’t forget markers/pens!
+Don’t dominate the meeting by talking at the group! Make meetings interactive. It is after all a teen advisory group, so young people should be doing a lot of the talking.
+Don’t make meetings too serious (unless the teens want them to be serious It’s okay to have fun, or even to plan period outings, parties, fun volunteer days, et cetera, as part of the group. Making it fun will inspire young people to come back.
+Don’t set unrealistic deadlines or obscure the difficulties of achieving certain projects. Be encouraging and positive, but realistic about obstacles. Teens are quite good at circumnavigating challenges to and problems with their project.
+Don’t become discouraged if the library budget precludes teenagers or your TAG. The accomplishments of a Teen Advisory Group can help to bolster your proposals to managers for allocation of money to teen programmes (in fact, the TAG may have input into any such proposal). In the meantime, the group has the option of raising money themselves by hosting book sales, bake sales, workshops and the like. Alternately, teen groups may apply for funding.