Successful Teen Advisory Groups
Teen Driven . . . with Guidance and a Helping Hand
Diane P. Tuccillo
When librarians plan and produce teen programs on their own, results can be sporadic. Sometimes the programs are successful, but they can also fall flat, leaving the planner to wonder: What happened? Why did the program fail?
Without teen feedback while planning anything for youth in libraries—from programs to teen spaces to collections—often we professionals miss the mark. On the other hand, librarians who allow teen advisory groups (TAGs) too much free rein can find themselves dealing with the opposite problem: lack of direction and indecision among the teens regarding what they want to do for and with their libraries.
Through all my years working with a TAG and researching TAGs in other libraries, I have come to realize that the key to success is balance between teen-driven participation and librarian intervention. Such balance involves encouraging teens to plan and run projects with the guidance and support of librarian advisors and administrators. It equally allows advisors to describe library needs to the teens, share any teen library interest survey results from the community’s teen population, and give TAG members a chance to help develop knowledgeable teen-driven solutions.
For example, take the teen editorial staff of the City of Mesa Library’s teen literary magazine, FRANK, a subgroup of our Young Adult Advisory Council (YAAC) here in Arizona. This strong, teen-driven group originated in 1978. Last year, when beginning to produce the 2005 issue of FRANK, they asked to work independently, promising to deliver a finished product in the spring. I scheduled the meeting room for them and reminded them to keep track of submissions and to send letters to teens who had submitted work. I assisted with publicity and gleaning submissions, did a final edit of the completed magazine before sending it to press, and found a way to fund and print it. The teen editors did all the hard work themselves: calling for submissions in their schools, evaluating manuscripts, scheduling extra meetings, doing clerical chores,
coordinating artwork, and sticking to deadlines.
Our teens are very proud of their just-published 2005 FRANK. One complimentary copy goes to each junior and senior high media center in Mesa. The remaining copies are sold for 75 cents each at the Friends of the Library Book Sale desks in Mesa Library’s three branches. The proceeds help to fund future library activities. As they embarked on the 2005 issue, the group knew that it would be fun and would give teen writers and artists a chance to showcase their work. They also knew what I had shared with them: that FRANK would promote reading and writing among their peers, and its sale would help to fund other library youth programs. FRANK was indeed teen driven—yet without my support as their advisor, they couldn’t have seen it through publication or realized its importance to the library and community. That’s what I mean by teen driven . . . with guidance and a helping hand.
VELVEETA AND A CAN OF SPAM
Another Arizona group with twelve members from ages twelve to seventeen, the Teen Council at the Maricopa County Library’s George L. Campbell branch, is ripe for increasing teen participation, according to Amy Fiske, their advisor and Teen Services Librarian. As soon as Amy started her librarian position in January, she organized her TAG. At the group’s first meeting, one girl raised her hand and politely asked, “Can we have programs during the school year, not just during the summer reading program?” Amy responded, “Yes, and I want you to plan them.” From that point onward, the teens took off with plenty of ideas.
The first thing they wanted was a poetry slam—although no one knew how to produce one. After Amy did research, the Teen Council worked with her to write official poetry slam rules, plan the event, and choose the prizes, which included a Borders gift card, a box of Twinkies, and a block of Velveeta. These teen-selected prizes worked! Among similar prizes for the next slam, they incorporated a can of Spam. Their slams are successful and teen driven, with librarian support, guidance, and open-mindedness.
Amy’s Teen Council members have also requested library visits from a journalist and a disc jockey. She happens to know both a reporter and a disc jockey, so she is arranging those visits in the fall. Sometimes when Amy shares her program ideas with the Teen Council, they pursue her suggestions. They agreed when she explained her reasoning for inviting author Chris Crutcher for Teen Read Week and having a discussion of his book, The Sledding Hill (Greenwillow/HarperCollins, 2005/VOYA June 2005) for Banned Books Week. Conversely, after she explained that the 2005 Teen Read Week theme is “Get Real,” the teens decided to show the film Super-Size Me for a movie night, which Amy supported.
Amy’s Teen Council is the guiding light to teen services in their library—they consider both Amy’s ideas and theirs. The teens have lots of input in the planning, and Amy takes care of the advertising and purchasing. She has learned to run all her “brilliant” ideas past the Teen Council first. One time when she didn’t, planning a Cinco de Mayo movie night with Mask of Zorro and chips and salsa, only one teen showed up. She and the lone teen had a fabulous time and it was a great bonding experience, but it was not the greatest use of program funds.
The Teen Council’s brainstorming sessions produce such varied plans as having a Dr. Seuss party where teens read Green Eggs and Ham to little kids, to reaching out to a local retirement home by doing crafts with the residents. In all cases, the group approves final plans; their activities are teen driven even as Amy contributes facts, needs, suggestions, and assistance to the cause.
QUIDDITCH AT 110 DEGREES
Another example in Arizona is Teresa Copeland’s fifteen-member TAG at the Yuma County Library, also a fairly new group. When Teresa began working there, fresh out of library school, teen services were virtually nonexistent. Because Teresa had been a member of my YAAC group in Mesa (serving on the editorial staff of FRANK!) and I had mentored her through library school, she knew that the first step in her new job would be to start a TAG. So she did. Teresa says, “The teens have volunteered, planned programs, and become an invaluable resource. In response to their wishes, we added graphic novels and completely weeded the teen fiction. They constantly request new titles and series, and their selections are popular. The teens get first pick of the new books, and they love seeing things arrive that they chose. They also helped design a simple teen Web site, which went live a year ago” (http://www.yumalibrary.org/Teenweb/teens.htm).
As in many libraries last summer, Teresa’s TAG decided to hold a Harry Potter launch party—after hours, from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Having planned it with Teresa, the teens played Quidditch on the lawn, had a trivia battle, held a clue hunt throughout the library, and provided a Diagon Alley store where teens spent the “coins” they had earned through summer reading. Two teens won copies of the new Harry Potter book. The twenty-three participants enjoyed being in the library after hours and had a great deal of fun. Despite the 110-degree weather, Teresa had a hard time getting the teens to stop playing Quidditch! The event was covered on the 10:00 evening television news and on the front page of the newspaper.
Yuma’s TAG members have also embarked on online author chats. TAG selects the authors, Teresa makes the connection, and they use the library’s computer lab. The first author chat with Tamora Pierce had five TAG members present (Teresa says keeping it under ten teens at a time is optimum), and still the chat log was more than forty pages long! The teens had such a great time that they are anxious to plan more author chats.
Although the Yuma Library’s TAG is extremely teen driven, without the support of its dedicated advisor, the group would never be so successful. Like the other TAGs featured, the key is balance between teendriven ideas and advisor support. With that balance, it is amazing what TAG groups can accomplish!
Originally published December 2005.
For almost twenty-five years, Diane P. Tuccillo was the Young Adult Coordinator at the City of Mesa Library in Arizona, where she continues as a volunteer advisor for the Young Adult Advisory Council (YAAC) and the FRANK teen literary magazine. She partners with teen reviewers for VOYA and serves on VOYA’s Editorial Advisory Board. Diane is currently the President of the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents (ALAN) and is The Library Connection editor for The ALAN Review. Next fall, she teaches the “Young Adults & Public Libraries” course at the University of Arizona. She also presents workshops for libraries based on her book, Library Teen Advisory Groups: A VOYA Guide (Scarecrow, 2005). Reach her at dianetuccillo@gmail.