On a Shoestring: Reaching Teens in a Few Hours Every Week (or) How to Use Time Effectively When You Don’t Have Any

2 Apr

cupcakes

Quality over Quantity

Recently a commenter mentioned that time is their main challenge to delivering excellent teen service. This is true for many librarians in a variety of sectors, especially in the era of budget cuts (speak up and save libraries!). While you may be aware of external sources of money for libraries and teen projects, it’s difficult to use that money to positive effect without a little time to do it.

Spend time near the teen books

The first place to do outreach is in your own library! Don’t hover or make up jobs, but do appear sometimes and chat to teens whenever you’re looking over books for ideas of what to order next, editing the collection, or putting up posters or displays or signs or leaflets in the teen area. Ask if there are any books they’d like you to order, or if they can think of any events or improvements to the library. Obviously you can’t do everything that’s asked of you, and it’s important to make that clear. But it’s also important to get feedback from young people currently using your service. At least a few of them will have passionate opinions, and be interested in becoming more involved with library offerings.

Dedicate a few hours to outreach

It can even be an hour a month of outreach, to start. Visit a school or a youth club. If you have teen events, prepare some activities or a quick presentation on those. If you don’t, or if you’d rather do something related to your materials, why not try a book talk?

If you go into one school every month that schools are in session, you could easily reach a few hundred young people every year. You’ll also become a friendly face for young people who feel nervous or unwelcome in the library. Young people are far more likely to use the library if they know there is a staff person who is kind, patient, and interested in listening to them.

Work in partnership

One meeting can save ten hours. If you have few or no outreach hours, meeting with someone who can reach the teens you want to work with can be a huge time saver. Your local council will have a department dedicated to all variety of youth services, including local youth clubs, at-risk teens and young offenders, NEETs (young people not in employment or work), and others who can use your service – but may not.

Introduce yourself to youth workers in the council. Tell them a little about your current services for teens, or what you’d like to offer. Ask them about programmes they think youth would like to see, and the best ways to reach local young people. Most youth workers who I have met are interested in getting teens more involved with libraries and reading.

Quality over quantity

It’s better to run, say, one really fun event every two months than to run an poorly planned event every week. It’s also a good way to gauge interest in recurrent activities or groups and make a case for them. Put your energy into a few really good projects, rather than trying to reach every teen all the time.

Support teens in running their own projects and create teen volunteer positions

This tactic requires you to spend time in order to save it. Teens do need some guidance for self-led projects and volunteering, but they can also help run events that you would never be able to put on without their ideas and investment. Read Teen Volunteers and Your Library for more information.

Apply for money for staff training

A little goes a long way. Many staff members are frightened of teens or feel “out of their depth.” Even a few hours of staff training (you can apply for money to fund this via your local branch of CILIP. Some, like East of England, accept applications from local libraries even if the applicants are not current CILIP members. Various Youth Libraries Group branches offers bursaries for conferences and other professional development projects.

Keep records of everything

Nothing is more frustrating than hunting around for that sheet of great book talk ideas, or trying to remember how many hours your teen volunteers have amassed. Don’t forget to keep records, even if they’re brief!

Know a brilliant timesaving technique? Comment or tweet it @yalibraryuk.

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